TCF Bank Stadium on the U of M campus

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Senate panel OKs liquor at TCF Stadium

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and ERIC ROPER
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • April 7, 2011 - 12:22 AM

A Minnesota Senate committee Wednesday approved bills granting breweries permission to sell pints of beer on the premises, and allowing limited alcohol sales at the three-year-old TCF Bank Stadium.

In the past two years, legislators and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty have blocked the University of Minnesota's attempts to sell alcohol only in the stadium's premium seating areas. Some legislators had called the school's plan "elitist," and at one point had advocated that the school's board of regents make alcohol available to everyone at the stadium or no one.

University officials, in response, opted to ban alcohol not only at the football stadium but also at all other on-campus athletic facilities.

"Nothing like a little booze and football to wake people up," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the proposal's Senate author, as he spoke at Wednesday morning's meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee. Michel argued that the decision should be left to the school, not the Legislature.

With a new governor and Republican majorities in the Legislature, the proposal's chances may be dramatically altered this year. Gov. Mark Dayton has not indicated his position on the issue and the House, which opposed limited sales when it was controlled by DFLers, has not yet debated the topic.

But Sen. Linda Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said there was still "enormous hypocrisy" in making alcohol available only in premium seating. For more than two decades, she said, alcohol was sold throughout the Metrodome without problems when the school played its home football games there.

Kathryn Brown, the chief of staff to outgoing U president Robert Bruininks, said if the plan becomes law, school officials would recommend that alcohol be sold in premium seating not only at TCF Bank Stadium, but at the school's basketball and hockey arenas.

Michel's proposal would allow the university to sell alcohol at Northrop Auditorium, the football stadium and up to seven other on-campus locations.

"This is a proper step, a big step, in the right direction," said Bob Hughes, president of the Goal Line Club, a football booster group.

Brown said the school had been forced to discount its premium seating pricing because it could not offer alcohol, and said the university had counted on revenue from the alcohol sales. Most Big 10 conference schools, Michel said, offered similar limited alcohol sales.

"This falls pretty low on everybody's radar," Michel said. "[But] we've kind of become the liquor control board for the University of Minnesota, particularly for the football stadium."

Surly bill clears a hurdle

Hours later, beer enthusiasts and supporters of Brooklyn Center-based Surly Brewing Co. crowded a committee room to support legislation allowing breweries to sell pints of their own beer on-site, which is not allowed under current law.

The proposal, which passed on a voice vote, emerged from Surly's plan to build a $20 million "destination brewery" in Minnesota.

Surly owner Omar Ansari asked the committee to pass the bill to "create more jobs, add tax revenue, and build something that people will come to from around the world." The state's powerful liquor lobby initially fought aggressively against the measure because they said it could create unfair competition in the liquor industry. Sponsor Sen. Linda Scheid responded with an amendment that excludes massive brewing companies from the law and prevents brewers from having more than one taproom license.

"This is the first bill I've seen this year ... that's actually going to create jobs with just a tweak of an existing law or regulation," Scheid said.

Liquor interests softened their opposition at Wednesday's hearing. Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association lobbyist Joe Bagnoli said they "may not ever be entirely comfortable with this legislation," but were happy Scheid made the changes.

"It is not unreasonable for a brewer to want to serve a couple of pints ... to people who visit their brewery and charge for it," Bagnoli said.

The bill now awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210 Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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