After developers missed a fall deadline, the Idaho State Liquor Dispensary canceled a permit for a controversial private liquor store at Ross Point in Post Falls.
“They’d had enough time,” Dyke Nally, liquor dispensary chief, said Monday. “It was more than a reasonable length of time to establish a business there.”
The missed deadline came as something of a relief to the state, which had allowed the Ross Point proposal through last spring under threats of lawsuits. It was the last new store approved before Gov. Phil Batt placed a moratorium on new liquor stores.
The state liquor agency has been reworking its regulations, and Batt may lift the moratorium as soon as this week or next. Among the proposals stalled by the moratorium was a plan for a high-end liquor store inside The Coeur d’Alene Resort.
The Ross Point store was approved through a process that left two prominent competitors fuming. Then, the firm that won the rights to the store never built anything and tried to sell the site.
The question of who should build the store, according to state liquor agency documents, has been a hot one:
In 1992, former Coeur d’Alene City Councilman William “Bill” Jones contacted the state, asking to discuss locating a liquor store at a convenience store he was purchasing near Highway 41 and Mullan Avenue, the Ross Point area.
The site was three miles from the state-owned liquor store in Post Falls, and within reach of a large residential area.
The state turned Jones down.
Two years later, Lee Sternberg and Brian Farley of Post Falls proposed a private liquor store, deli and gas station on vacant land at the Highway 41 and Mullan Avenue intersection. Within a few months, Elden Goodwin, who owns the Hico Country Store across the street, also contacted the state about liquor sales.
Sternberg and Farley, through their company F&S; Inc., contend they were told their application would be approved. Then in September 1994, the state liquor dispensary sent a letter to all three applicants saying it had decided against a Ross Point liquor store.
F&S; threatened to sue, and complained to the governor’s office. In March 1995, then-state liquor chief H. Dean Summers approved the F&S; plan.
In April 1995, attorney Peter Erbland, representing Jones, wrote to the state noting that Jones owns the Sunset Bowling Center in Coeur d’Alene, which has a liquor license, and has a long record of successful business operation in North Idaho. But the right to the liquor store, Erbland wrote, “is instead granted to individuals with no prior liquor license or retail sales experience, no prior convenience store sales experience, and no store in place.”
F&S; blamed Sternberg’s health problems for delays in developing its store. The company has listed its property for sale.
Farley did not return a reporter’s calls Monday.
The state’s agreement with F&S; said the liquor approval couldn’t be sold. If ownership changed, it would expire unless the state approved the new owner.
But historically, when liquor operations change hands, the state has approved the new owners.
Erbland said in his letter that the way the state handled the Ross Point permit could allow F&S; “to speculate and improve its financial position without ever having demonstrated a track record for responsible retail sales of liquor.”
Looking back on the process, most of which happened before he took over, Nally said it wasn’t handled well.
It won’t be the same way again, Nally said. First, the state will look at whether there’s a need for a liquor store in any particular area. If the need is strong, and sales will top $400,000 per year, a state-operated store might be the best choice.
Or, if a lower-volume, privately run store looks like the best bet, Nally said he’ll set up an application process that allows all the qualified parties to compete.
Jones said if the Ross Point site came up again, he might be interested.
Goodwin said he, too, would be interested. “All we asked was a level playing field. I think it was a done deal before anybody else got a shot at it.”
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