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Little Beltrami County Board support for 2 a.m. bar closing

All but one Beltrami County commissioner said Tuesday said their constituent calls oppose a 2 a.m. bar closing.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick said his calls were split mostly along age, with "older, mature" constituents against the later bar closing and "younger callers asking what's the deal? -- What's wrong with 2 a.m.?"

The city of Bemidji last month approved an ordinance calling for a 2 a.m. bar closing time. Meanwhile, the Beltrami County Board proposed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of alcohol in bars past 1 a.m.

The county ordinance would affect only about eight establishments outside any city limits, but several are just outside Bemidji city limits, and could create a situation of rural drinkers driving into town for another hour of drinking.

"I hope we can end up on the same page," said Board Chairman Joe Vene.

Both the county and city made their positions known at a joint meeting a week ago. Commissioner Jack Frost, vacationing in Florida and attending Tuesday's work session via speaker phone, asked if commissioners had any reaction after that joint meeting.

"I've had virtually no people call me in favor of a 2 a.m. bar closing," said Commissioner Jim Heltzer. "Most of them are opposed."

Most constituents told Heltzer that the city move isn't to increase tourism traffic but rather to "pay off a debt on the land and are anxious to find someone to pay it off."

A developer wants to build condominiums on the south shore of Lake Bemidji near The Sanford Center, and would be anchored by Zorbaz bar/restaurant. Zorbaz, however, won't build unless granted a 2 a.m. closing time, which it has for its other resort town establishments.

"People tell me it's like a bailout," said Heltzer. "That's what a lot of my people think of it. A lot think it's bad policy."

He said he would not support moving the county time to 2 a.m "just to be on the same page as the city" because it is still "bad policy."

"In my district, many bars close at 10 or 11 p.m. because there are no customers," said Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks, whose district includes northwest Beltrami County. "Most of the people I talk to think it's a bailout in Bemidji."

Frost said that bartenders in the city "do not want to sell after 1 a.m." and some people have told him that alcohol sales should end at 11 a.m. and coffee sold after that.

"I have heard from very few who support a 2 a.m. bar closing," said Vene. "And the Visitors and Convention Bureau has heard from no one wanting to keep their establishment open to 2 a.m."

Keeping open an additional hour will cost Keg 'n Cork $10,000 a year in labor costs, Frost said.

The county will hold a second reading and public hearing on Feb. 1 for its ordinance amendment to the county liquor ordinance.

Vene said he hopes that people on both sides of the issue come and give their opinions.