Business owners thwart city's attempt to spike alcohol license fees - for now

An outcry by bar owners and restaurateurs set the administration's proposal aside

Photo credit: Sean Keenan
JAM-PACKED: A sea of fuming bar owners and restaurateurs hear the mayor's deputy chief of staff, Katrina Taylor Parks, explain the need to hike alcohol permit prices.

Atlanta’s booze-selling business owners are up in arms over a proposal to hike alcohol permit costs, and their fervent outcry at City Hall Tuesday knocked the legislation on its tush.

The ordinance pitch, borne of the City Council’s finance committee at the behest of the mayor’s administration, would require bars, restaurants, and music venues to apply for three separate $5,000 permits in order to serve beer, wine, and liquor. Currently, Atlanta bars need only one permit per service counter, meaning, if this plan passed, local watering holes such as Edgewood Avenue’s Georgia Beer Garden would need to shell out some $30,000 to serve patrons at their upstairs and downstairs bars.

But the legislation was filed away during the Council’s public safety and legal administration committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, after Atlanta business owners showed up en masse to fight the proposal and question its supposed necessity.

Mayor Kasim Reed’s deputy chief of staff, Katrina Taylor Parks, speaking on behalf of Atlanta’s executive branch, said the legislation would put cash in the city’s coffers to deal with the costs of dealing out all these permits and regulating who’s up to date.

Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association, told councilmembers and activists, “This is something that will kill our neighborhoods.” She said the legislation would cripple small businesses, and local proprietors said it could pave the way for “huge box stores,” as Grant Henry, an Old Fourth Ward bar owner, put it on Facebook.

“Strong neighborhoods are built by neighbors, not by corporations,” said Brandon Ley, co-owner of the Georgia Beer Garden. He and his business partner Johnny Martinez lobbed the idea of occupancy-dependant permit pricing. "A bar of 98 people shouldn't have to pay the same as a bar of 2,000," Martinez said, contrasting their other bar, Joystick, with a Dave and Buster’s.

"Our margins are so little as it is," added Drew Van Leuvan, co-owner of Buckhead's Seven Lamps. "Government attempting to raise a liquor license fee 300 percent is outrageous and not sustainable for small businesses. If Atlanta wants to be considered a worldly city, you can’t tax the doers and creators to the point where they leave the city and big box business takes over. Not smart business.”

Parks continued to say that the legislation contained something of a clerical error, and that it isn’t intended to triple the cost of obtaining a liquor license.

That’s just not true, Henry told Creative Loafing after the meeting. “And you can’t just tax people without proving that this goes with a cost,” he said. Parks, prior to the meeting’s public comment time, conceded that the legislation lacked justification and said it would be presented no later than Monday, after further analysis of the costs of permitting and regulating.

Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean said the city should also acknowledge that many of these small businesses are putting revenue in the city’s pocket with plenty of other channels, such as sales tax and parking fees. “There are other ways that you contribute to our economy without your licensing fees,” she said.

Because the legislation was shelved, it will likely be nixed for the year and perhaps drafted anew under the next mayor’s administration.

Additional reporting by Angela Hansberger.

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