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Bemdiji City Council: City to look at taproom ordinance

BEMIDJI – The city council here will soon look at ordinance changes allowing beer sales at breweries.

An ordinance was scheduled to be introduced during the Monday night council meeting that would allow licensed brewers to apply for taproom licenses. The ordinance’s first reading, however, will be pushed back a couple weeks to allow the council and staff to review the ordinance and fee structure during a work session Feb. 11, city clerk Kay Murphy said.

Breweries and taprooms have sprung up in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and across the state in recent years, largely thanks to recent legislative changes and growing popularity of smaller breweries.

Currently, licensed establishments in Bemidji that sell beer for consumption on site must also sell food. The proposed ordinance would allow licensed taprooms to only sell beer, but it must be the beer brewed at that facility.

The council will also look at ordinance language for brewers to be able to sell 64-ounce jugs called “growlers,” or 750-milliliter bottles at the brewery. The city currently has the exclusive right to sell alcohol off-sale at liquor stores in city limits.

“This whole idea of breweries having taprooms is becoming a draw to certain segments,” city manager John Chattin said. “I think we see this as a good thing for Bemidji, it’s just a matter of finding out what we have to do to accommodate the taproom aspect of it and the growler aspect of it.”

Members of Bemidji Brewing Co. recently met with planning and city staff to discuss their long-range plans and potential ordinance changes. Currently, they brew beer out of Harmony Co-op’s community kitchen, which they sell to Brigid’s Irish Pub.

 Ultimately, they’d like to have their own brick and mortar brewery with a taproom in Bemidji. One of the first steps in that goal is having an ordinance to allow that type of facility.

“It’s not like we’re opening up a taproom next week,” said Bemidji Brewing member Justin Kaney.

Mayana Rice, the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board administrator, said since that meeting with the brewers, the planning office has been looking at updating the zoning code to allow this type of brewery downtown.

“From a planning perspective, I do think we need more large-scale anchors downtown,” Rice said.

The potential changes come after the Minnesota Legislature’s passage of 2011’s so-called “Surly bill,” named after the Brooklyn Center-based brewer. The bill lifted restrictions on brewers who wanted to sell beer where they brew it, commonly referred to as taprooms.

It’s still up to cities, however, to decide whether to offer taproom licenses.

Surly Brewing Co. is looking to build a destination brewery somewhere in the Twin Cities metro area.

Monday’s meeting

Councilors will be discussing a few items at their regular meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall:

E Reed Olson will be sworn in as the Ward 4 Councilor after being appointed to the vacant seat on Jan. 28.

E The council will consider loaning the Bemidji Regional Airport $380,000, which will be repaid by Aug. 1. The airport is also asking Beltrami County for $380,000.

The money is for airport construction costs until grant reimbursements are received to repay the loan.

E A charter amendment to reflect recent legislative changes of the primary election date will go before the council Monday.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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