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Willmar, Minn., City Council sets hearing for taproom ordinance

WILLMAR - The Willmar City Council will hold a public hearing Aug. 5 to consider a new liquor license category that would accommodate the unique retailing venue of breweries and brewpubs.

The council voted Monday night to set the date after receiving a request to create the liquor license to accommodate breweries and brewpubs. This new category is requested under statutes created by the Minnesota Legislature in 2011.

The Legislature established a new law that allows municipalities to create a special on-sale category for breweries and brewpubs called a taproom license, which allows producers to sell their on-site brewed products for consumption on the premises.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the ordinance was previously before the council dealing with on-sale brewer taprooms and a liquor license category that creates an opportunity in Willmar.

When the proposed ordinance came to the council June 17, a question was raised whether licensed taprooms also can sell "growlers'' -- half-gallon jugs of brew to go -- in addition to beer sold for consumption on the premises. The first draft of the ordinance contained no specific reference to growlers.

Stevens said the sale of growlers is a practice at these taprooms. The ordinance as redrafted by City Attorney Robert Scott allows for sale of growlers, she said.

The growing popularity of micro-breweries and small brewpubs prompted the new law. Several cities have already taken advantage of the law and begun issuing taproom liquor licenses.

There's no brewery or brewpub in Willmar, at least not yet. But City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday has said he's had an inquiry from someone suggesting the city make taproom licensing available.

In other business, the council voted to hold a public hearing Aug. 5 to support a request by Critical Care Services Inc. of Minnesota, a nonprofit corporation, to issue $18.6 million in revenue bonds to finance acquisition of six helicopters for medical use.

One or more of the helicopters will be housed for Lifelink at the Willmar Municipal Airport. Others will be housed at Alexandria, Hibbing and Blaine, and one in Rice Lake,Wis.

Critical Care has requested the Wisconsin Public finance Authority issue the bonds. The borrower has advised Willmar that one or more of the helicopters will be housed here.

State law requires the bonds be approved by the "applicable elected representative'' of a governmental unit having jurisdiction over the area in which the project is located.

Bruce Peterson, community development director, said the bond proposal has no impact on the city, does not affect the city's bonding capacity, and the city has no responsibilities or obligations.

Council member Steve Ahmann said he rode in a medical helicopter sent from St. Cloud back to St. Cloud. He appreciated having a helicopter in Willmar and wanted to recognize those responsible for bringing the service here.

Peterson said conversations were held among Critical Care and community people and organizations. Peterson thinks the company made a business decision that is in its best interest to be here.

"We just worked with them to figure out how best to accommodate them,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150