By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

A long-evolving discussion between Spring Grove council members and the city’s residents on the topic of The Corner Bar took the stage again at the regular council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 21. 

The question was “Should the city have that municipality? Does it benefit the city?”

At the end of a lengthy discussion, council members made no formal action on the topic, but did consider audit numbers and possibility of offering more liquor licenses if The Corner Bar ceased to exist. Cities that have a municipal liquor store are allowed one liquor license only. 

In October, Red’s IGA owner Pat Longmire asked the council to look at the past five years of profit and loss and gross sales. Those numbers were presented on Dec. 21. Gross sales have consistently trended between $400,000 and $450,000. Profit and loss numbers have trended downward, going from $46,769 in 2016, $25,473 in 2017, $11,145 in 2018 to $5,779 in 2019, then taking a larger loss in 2020 ($16,515 under) and year to date in 2021, $7,376 under.

Longmire said if he had the ability to obtain a liquor license from the city, he would be able to offer a wider selection of alcohol and boost store sales. That, along with Sunday hours, would deter more people from traveling outside of town for alcoholic beverage choices, groceries, gas and dining out. 

In the future, Patrick and Jayme Longmire have plans to open a brewery in Spring Grove. This would be separate from Red’s IGA, in location and ownership. The council did grant Fat Pat’s Brewpub an On Sale (Brewer’s Taproom) and Off Sale Liquor License for Fat Pat’s Brewpub & BBQ (including Sunday). That gives the brewery permission to sell their own products. 

Residents in attendance agreed with the Longmires. Jana Elton said she used to go into The Corner Bar and spend money, but recently, the “vibe has gone down so dramatically.” She says she checks Spring Grove’s selection first, and if the beverage of choice is not found there, usually goes to Caledonia’s municipal liquor store. Elton said she did ask manager Joe Kessler if he could get certain products in. 

Kay Cross said she would rather invest in the future of Spring Grove by buying local, and not leave town to find a product. She noted the wine selection was limited. 

Dayna Burtness Nguyen seconded those thoughts, and added she would like to see the Longmire family continue to be entrepreneurs, seeing that they’ve expanded the grocery store to include a coffee shop and dining option on weekends. 

On the city council’s view, Mayor Scott Solberg reminded audience members that government moves slowly. He added the interior of the liquor had been updated, in addition to new exterior paint and new signage. 

Funds from the liquor store have recently purchased a new side-by-side for the fire department and in the past, improved parks and rec facilities, benefited other city departments and purchased other fire department equipment. That takes the burden off taxpayers.

Furthermore, the liquor store would have to see a loss two out of three years before the council could hold a public hearing, potentially vote and/or decide to close it or keep it open. All of those decisions take more time, including selling the inventory, fixtures and building if it is closed. 

After more discussion, the council informally agreed to wait for the 2021 audit numbers, talk to the League of Minnesota Cities and attorneys about the process and timeline, ordinance changes, potential liquor license structure and then possibly hold a public hearing in 2022. No formal action was taken at the Dec. 21 meeting, nor was any public hearing scheduled. 

Council members and the Longmire family both agreed it would be in the best interest to keep the liquor store open while the brewery project and eventual opening is underway. Specific dates were not available for the brewery opening.

Solberg thanked audience members for the respectful conversation and appreciated the honest, calm and frank discussion. 

Truth in Taxation

The council held its annual Truth in Taxation meeting. No residents spoke during public comment. The council approved an increase just over 3% and the levy total for 2022 at $650,000. 

Junk Vehicle Art

The council approved a letter to the prosecuting attorney for two citations issued for junk vehicle art violations to JC Nerstad and Jon Sylling. The letter asks the attorney to dismiss the case, as both violations had been brought into compliance. The council agreed that both issues were brought into compliance. 

Walking and Pickleball

The council gave permission to allow walking inside the Fest Building during January, February and March. The building will be open 8-10 a.m. and 5-7 p.m. week days. Current Covid-19 protocols will be in place. Participants are asked to sign in and wear clean walking shoes. Last year, over 200 people utilized the space for exercise. 

The council also approved the pickleball team to utilize the Fest Building at no cost. Rented events will take precedent over the pickleball team, and they will need to store their equipment during non-pickleball times. 

In a letter of support from Darla and James Hunzeker, pickleball is an activity for all ages and many people have expressed interest in playing the game. They took precautions to ensure no damage would be done to the floor or walls in the building, they wrote. City staff said they found no damage after pickleball played last year, minus two tiny corner marks for the court.

Cobblestone Hotel project

The council approved a resolution that will ask for a $10,000 deposit to cover agreement expenses such as processing fees, contracts, legal work and the likes in order to bring the Cobblestone Hotel Group project to reality. 

Throughout 2021, the city and EDA have communicated with this particular group about building a 35-40 room hotel near the Swim Center. The deposit advice comes from city finanical advisor Mike Bubany, and the goal is not leave taxpayers on the hook for any expenses that do not benefit the city, such as an impact study. 

The city would need to return any unused funds if the hotel becomes a reality. 

Other news

The council approved Harlee Gavin as Swim Center manager for the upcoming summer, as long as the city did not need to post for the job. Amundson said she would ensure it did not need to be posted. 

Also mentioned, but no formal action was taken, a result of the Spring Grove 2030 committee will come to fruition in 2022. The goal is to implement a restaurant equipment loan program in the hopes of attracting and retaining another option for dining in Spring Grove. A formal press release is expected in January. 

Next meeting 

The next meeting of the Spring Grove City Council will be Jan. 18, 2022 at 6 p.m.  at 168 W. Main St.

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