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Willmar amends city code to allow liquor sales during boxing matches, similar events

The Willmar City Council approved an amendment to the city code that allows on-sale liquor at events such as boxing and mixed martial arts. A permit was also approved to a liquor provider for a Cage Fighting Extreme event at the Willmar City Center at the end of August.

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The Willmar City Council has changed the city code to allow liquor sales at boxing, mixed martial arts and other fighting events in town. Erica Dischino file photo / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — When a boxing or mixed martial arts event comes to Willmar, spectators could be able to enjoy a beer or glass of wine during the matches. The Willmar City Council amended the city code at Monday's council meeting, allowing for alcohol sales during contests regulated by the Minnesota State Boxing Commission, with an approved city permit.

"It would be staff's recommendation to adopt" the amendment to the city code, said Willmar Police Capt. Mike Anderson.

A public hearing on the amendment was held before the council vote, but there was no public comment. The resolution to amend the code passed 7-1, with Councilor Audrey Nelsen voting against it.

"I just have a little anxiety over it," Nelsen said.

There were some questions regarding required staffing at the events, specifically security.

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"Everybody just wants it to go smoothly," said Councilor Andrew Plowman. "We don't want any problems."

The updated code mandates the holder of the license contract with the Willmar Police Department for the assignment of at least two on-duty officers to the licensed premises during the event.

"There will be two uniformed police officers there," Anderson said.

In addition, the permit holder either must employ at least one licensed private security guard for every 200 attendees or at least one employee from the permitted business for every 50 attendees. The liquor permit holder will need to provide proof to the Police Department that all the private security guards working at the event are actively licensed under Minnesota state law.

In an interview with the West Central Tribune on Wednesday, Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt explained that the permit holder does not have to employ licensed private security guards for the event as long as it meets the requirement of having one employee per 50 attendees. Felt said licensed security guards are trained to deal with crowds and how to intervene if needed, so fewer are required. However, regular staff members are usually not as well-trained in security matters, so more bodies are needed to watch a crowd.

"We figured that if they are not trained or equipped, more of them to help monitor and control would be doable," Felt said.

At the meeting, Capt. Anderson said based on the crowd estimates for an upcoming match, that would mean about 14 to 15 licensed security guards or 40 to 50 staff members.

After the code was amended, the City Council approved an on-sale liquor permit to sell alcohol at the Civic Center for a Cage Fighting Xtreme event, a mixed martial arts event, on Aug. 28. The approved permit was for Mamma Dee's Green Lantern LLC, of Brainerd.

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The permit passed on a vote of 6-2, with Councilors Justin Ask and Vicki Davis voting against it.

There were concerns about Mamma Dee's not being a known local provider, as well as the issue that the Minnesota Attorney General's Office in January had issued a cease and desist order, suspended its Health Department license and fined the business $5,000 for violating executive orders designed to protect its employees, customers and community from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a story by the Brainerd Dispatch , the Minnesota Department of Health and Mamma Dee's were working on a settlement agreement regarding the penalty in February.

"It strikes me as evidence of a business that is not following the proper regulations set for them if they are willing to decline to follow the governor's executive orders. What else are they going to decline to follow as they come into Willmar as well?" Ask said.

Felt said in the interview that when the Police Department did its background check on Mamma Dee's, the state said the business had a valid liquor license.

While the City Council approved both the amended code and the liquor permit, Mayor Marv Calvin shared his reservations and said he was not in support of amending the city code. This was despite him sounding more supportive about it a few weeks ago when it was first brought to the council's attention.

"The more I thought about it, the more I go back to the conversations held in 2007," Calvin said.

The Willmar City Council, in August 2007, banned the sale of liquor at fighting events due to crowd control concerns. Calvin still has those concerns.

"Alcohol and fighting are never a good combination," Calvin said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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