After a quick and unanimous vote last week, Grand Forks City Council members backed away from approving a liquor license for a family-minded entertainment center.
Council members voted unanimously on Monday, Nov. 5, to send Northern Air Family Fun Center’s application to serve beer and wine back to the city’s Committee of the Whole for further consideration. The center also is working to add stalls for axe-throwing — a trendy pastime — and a kitchen and dining area.
“Upon reflection, I really struggle with the idea of having it be yet another center within our community that involves alcohol and involves co-mingling with kids and with minors,” said Council member Sandi Marshall, who voted last week to forward the application to the council proper for final approval. “I really had to stop and think about this and to reconsider my support for it.”
Co-owner Bryan Lee said beer and wine service would be restricted to the first-floor dining area and the axe-throwing area, which is on the second floor of the center.
The center would be considered a restaurant for the purposes of the license, a plan that gave Marshall and Council member Ken Vein pause. Grand Forks’ city code has a few different definitions of a restaurant, and the relevant one for Northern Air defines it as an establishment “where food and meals are prepared and sold on site,” but doesn’t go beyond that. Other parts of the code use sharper definitions but don’t apply to the fun center’s license application, according to city staff. Vein characterized the city’s definition as “vague” and “open.”
Prior Herald coverage referred to the first-floor kitchen and dining area -- where a tentative menu submitted to the city lists pizza, hot dogs, pretzels and nachos -- as a “concession stand,” and Lee objected to that characterization.
“Everything I submitted to them is a restaurant,” he told the Herald on Tuesday, referring to city staff.
Lee said he was frustrated about city leaders’ decision to send his license application back to committee because of their seemingly quick change of heart and because none of them asked him a question when they considered his application on Monday. He pointed to other area businesses he considers similar to his own that serve alcohol: water parks, hotel pools and bowling alleys.
“Where is it different?” he asked rhetorically.
Marshall on Monday said she had serious concerns about whether the center’s food service area should be considered a restaurant.
“If it is, then I think we’re opening a slippery slope to other kinds of settings that might have similar kinds of food operations such as convenience stores and maybe the Icon youth hockey arena,” she said. “It really probably is not a restaurant environment .... that’s a real stretch from what I can consider.”
Marshall’s motion to deny the application outright failed for lack of a second.
Council member Dana Sande said he was concerned about setting a precedent, but also believed that Northern Air met the requirements of existing city policy.
“I personally would find it hard to deny their application if we have provided liquor licenses under the similar circumstances to others under the same ordinance,” he said. “However, I’m happy to talk about this more.”