Headquarters Live seeks to expand its alcohol license

Wicomico County Council members, after hearing lengthy testimony Tuesday, will decide whether or not to write a letter supporting a request to allow Headquarters Live to sell liquor.

At the Council meeting, attorney Michael Sullivan, representing Joey Gilkerson, who owns 51 percent of the Headquarters Live partnership in Downtown Salisbury, asked for the council’s support. Currently, only beer and wine are sold there.

“In order for the intent of the Headquarters Live project to remain and become economically sustainable, the sale of spirits is  imperative … to maintain the integrity of the project, those younger than 18 must be allowed on the premises,” Sullivan said.

He said Headquarters Live was intended to be an arts and entertainment venue for those who didn’t typically go downtown. It would also focus on community events.

Sullivan said the process of being allowed to sell liquor began with a letter to liquor licensing commissioners in August, after which he and Gilkerson went before commissioners and presented the proposed text amendment that would allow the sale of liquor.

He asked County Council for support before the commissioners make a decision.

County Councilman Joe Holloway said he has had experience in businesses like Headquarters Live, and found it difficult to control underage drinking. “I think it would be very, very hard. I see it almost as being impossible to control. I know what your goal is, and I know what you’d like, but I see it as almost impossible,” Holloway said.

Councilman Larry Dodd worried about fake IDs and those who are under age getting away with drinking.

But Gilkerson said everybody there younger than 21 would wear an armband.

“The big piece is staffing, having the right people in place, adequately trained,” Gilkerson said.

“I can appreciate that, but you’d need a lot of eyes,” Dodd said.

Brew River owner Frank Hanna, a longtime restaurateur, was adamantly opposed to liquor being sold at Headquarters Live, and called it unfair, since the business doesn’t have a  kitchen or food requirement.

“It could create a nightclub with underage people inside. If the county were to pass such a ridiculous request it would mean the food-to-liquor ratio would be gone,” Hanna said, predicting  fights, deaths and alcohol poisonings.

“Headquarters Live has virtually become a nightclub without liquor,” he said.

The beer and wine license is  right for the business, he said. “It lets them have all ages in there without any problem. If they want to go to a nightclub  license, they can do that and get liquor. They don’t want to do that because they want that underage crowd that goes in there … If you add liquor, it’s going to be impossible to manage,” Hanna said.

Ulysses Triantis, general manager of The Fountains, was also opposed.

“What Frank Hanna said today makes a lot of sense … Mixing over 21 with under 21 doesn’t make any sense. What Headquarters Live is proposing is — we heard it — an honor system. Nobody is going to honor the system.

“When that 12 ’clock comes along, everyone under 21 has to leave. They are going to run around like cockroaches … they are never going  to control it. Even arm bands, if you’re wearing long sleeves, you won’t see the arm bands … the bartenders aren’t going to be able to watch. It’s a sale. They are going to make a sale. Their minds are going to be all over the place,” Triantis said.

He said the liability isn’t worth the benefit and doubted the change would promote a better atmosphere downtown.

“They are trying to circumvent having to put in a kitchen, which can cost up to $1 million. They are trying to circumvent having to hire chefs and cooks. They are trying to circumvent high payrolls.  We all have that problem … they are trying to circumvent the law in the least expensive way possible. I ask this board not to pass this type of legislation,” Triantis said.

But Council President John Cannon clarified County Council members were only gathering information Tuesday, and would only decide if they wanted to send a letter of support.

Councilman Marc Kilmer said the matter is not something the County Council can pass.

Cannon granted Gilkerson an  opportunity to reply to objections, and Gilkerson said events would be planned depending on what is appropriate for those younger than 18, and 18 and older. Music for the older segment might have more adult content and “a lot of cussing, vulgar words in their music,” Gilkerson said.

His goal is not to avoid putting in a kitchen, he said, adding that, even restaurants that have bars, and serve food and alcohol, usually close the kitchen at 11 p.m. or midnight. Most alcohol is served between midnight and 2 a.m., “so there’s no food to soak up that alcohol anyhow,” he said.

“We don’t want to be a nightclub,” he said, but wish to have weddings, family events, concerts, school events and community functions during non-peak bar hours.

Hanna returned to the podium, with Cannon asking him to limit comments  to avoid “getting into a back and forth.”

Hanna said a bar crawl is planned for Friday that ends at Headquarters Live. “You know where they’ll be. It’s unfair competition,” he said.

Councilman John Hall said Headquarters Live promised to be a community outreach forum, “but if this text amendment, as presented, goes forward … this is going to open up a very strong bar, tavern, venue that will call themselves arts and entertainment. I think you need to restrict it and make it more like Break Time type of license where you can be unique,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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