An official with the LDS Church's development partner in the $1.5 billion downtown redevelopment project says the dwindling number of state liquor licenses could make it hard to fill restaurant space.
"It's very important for the caliber of restaurant that we're talking about having with this project," said Bruce Heckman, vice president of development for Taubman Centers Inc. "We would need those in order to be able to get the best quality of restaurant."
But the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission has been coming close in recent months to issuing all of the licenses available under the population-based quota system set by the Legislature.
And although there's pressure to ease or even eliminate the quotas from some commissioners as well as the restaurant and hospitality industry, neither lawmakers nor Gov. Gary Herbert are taking up the issue.
On the Downtown Rising Web site, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that, regarding City Creek, "a limited number of high-quality restaurant tenants who will operate on property not owned by the church may apply for licenses to serve alcoholic beverages in accordance with existing state regulations." The LDS Church, which counsels its members against drinking alcohol, has stated it is not opposed to responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages by informed adults.
With the project still three years from completion, Taubman officials are keeping a close eye on the number of available licenses as they court tenants for the 800,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
"We're watching the laws as they continue to evolve," Heckman said. "The quota issue is a potential problem for us. We won't open until 2012, and all the licenses could be gone by then. We don't know."
Asked if Taubman would lobby the Legislature for a change to the law, Heckman said, "We will be monitoring the situation."
Liquor-license quotas came up briefly when Herbert met Monday with members of the Utah Restaurant Association, said the governor's spokeswoman, Angie Welling. But he still has no plans to push for additional reforms in the upcoming legislative session.
Asked whether something will need to be done by 2012 for the City Creek development, Welling said that to her knowledge, "that's not an issue the governor has examined in depth."
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who helped push through major liquor reform in the 2009 Legislature that did away with private club membership requirements, said quotas do need to be looked at — but not until 2011.
The upcoming annual legislative session is too soon to take on another big liquor issue, Hughes said, warning that might be seen by some as abandoning state control over alcohol.
"I think we battle a perception problem," he said. "That is the real political engine on that more than anything else."
Still, Hughes said the 20-acre City Creek project will have influence. "It will be part of the equation," Hughes said. "I don't know how it couldn't be."
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, the sponsor of last session's liquor reform legislation, agreed nothing is likely to happen in the 2010 Legislature.
"City Creek could be of interest, but there's a lot of other demands, too," Valentine said.
The state is down to eight full-service restaurant liquor licenses and nine for those establishments limited to serving wine and beer. Sam Granato, chairman of the liquor commission, has called for getting rid of the quota system.
"We should look at it because of a major development called City Creek that's going downtown," Granato said. "I would think that would be a compelling reason."
Heckman said a state law that prohibits alcohol sales within 200 feet of a church — even if there is no opposition from the church — shouldn't affect City Creek.
While the development, at points, is just across the street from Temple Square, Taubman officials have planned for restaurant spaces to be far enough south that the spacing restriction should not have an impact.
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