Culver to challenge Civic Center alcohol prohibition

County Executive Bob Culver said his administration will go to court in an effort to end the prohibition that prevents alcohol sales at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.

“I’m going for it,” Culver told the Salisbury Independent last week. “I’m getting ready to take it to court and get a ruling from a judge.”

Following World War II, Salisbury business leader and philanthropist S. Franklyn Woodcock donated land along Glen Avenue for a county ball field, similar to nearby Harmon Field, to be built to honor returning veterans.

That tract ultimately became the site for the Civic Center.

A deed restriction attached to the donated property declared alcohol could not be “sold or dispensed” on the property.

The county has essentially skirted that rule for decades by allowing some groups and patrons to “bring their own bottle” for certain functions.

“My opinion is the county has vacated this (restriction) ─ years ago,” said Culver. “We have served alcohol out there for years. The covenant says ‘will not be dispensed.’ ”

Observed Culver: “We have been dispensing alcohol like it’s the biggest redneck Mardi Gras we’ve ever had.”

Franklyn Woodcock, who died at his Tony Tank home in January 1961, was widely known as a teetotaler. The extended Woodcock family, who were important figures in Wicomico County and owned jewelry and real estate businesses, were alcohol opponents.

In fact, Salisbury native Amos Walter Wright Woodcock, who died in 1964 and is buried in Parsons Cemetery in Salisbury, was the federal official in charge of “Dry Enforcement” during national prohibition.

At his professional peak, it was A.W.W. Woodcock who oversaw some 2,700 Dry Agents and clerical employees during prohibition, and later wrote a book about his experiences called “Golden Days.”

Culver said his plan is to offer the judge who hears the county’s plea the option to transfer the restriction to another piece of county land, where ballparks would be constructed.

“Originally it was a ball field; it was not a Civic Center — it was a ball field,” said Culver. “We have land on Levin Dashiell Road. We’ll name that (recreational complex) the Franklyn S. Woodcock ball fields. No alcohol will be served there.”

Culver said the alcohol restriction negatively affects the Civic Center’s profit-making abilities ─ an argument that has been made for years by county officials at many levels, but one that no one was willing to wage a legal war.

“It’s not my fault that (the alcohol prohibition) was vacated years ago,” Culver said. “But there’s no sense in us having a $110 million building and we can’t do anything with it in that sense.”

A county task force estimated in 2009 that selling alcohol at age-appropriate events only could boost revenue by at least $300,000. A study in 2012 pegged the overall economic benefits at more than $800,000 to the county, a figure that included alcohol proceeds, as well as additional events and higher event attendance.

The 34-year-old Civic Center is slated for some $3 million in capital improvements over the next two years. Culver said he wants the alcohol issue resolved before making some of the major renovation decisions. For example, he would like to attract a minor league hockey franchise to the area, but alcohol would need to be included as part of any business plan. Worcester County has also been eyed as a possible location for a hockey team.

The possibility of a hockey rink inside the Civic Center also affects what kind of new seating might be purchased.

“I’ve got to do this to be in the running for a hockey team, and I’ve got to do it fast to say ‘OK, we’re on.’ ” Culver said. “Before I order these chairs, I want an answer.”

Alcohol is now dispensed at another county-owned facility, Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds.

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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