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November 11 , 2005

Alcohol attracts retail, supporters say

November 11th, 2005 - Becoming ‘wet’ can help bring eateries, groceries, officials say Holli L. Estridge and Sandra Zaragoza Senior Writer The door to selling alcohol at convenience stores, grocery stores and restaurants in North Texas is opening wider. On Nov. 8, voters in Denton County's Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 passed a referendum to allow beer and wine sales in cities and large unincorporated areas. The Colony, Lewisville, Little Elm and Oak Point, the largest Precinct 2 cities, already allowed alcohol sales. During the August 2004-August 2005 time period, more than 60 cities, counties or precincts in Texas held local option elections to legalize or expand the sale of alcohol, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Of those, 53 passed and 13 failed. The transition from dry to wet often is the key to kicking off retail development and pumping up sales tax revenue. For retailers like Kroger, Costco and World Market, the ability to sell alcohol can be "very critical; it's a big piece of business," said Terry Syler of Dallas-based The Retail Connection. It's also important for restaurant operators like Dallas-based Brinker International Inc., which has more than 200 Chili's, On the Border and Macaroni Grill restaurants in Texas. But a location's degree of wetness is only one of the criteria Brinker looks at when developing a restaurant, said Chris Barnes, Brinker spokesman. "If a site is good enough, we'll make it work," he said. California-based Big League Dreams, which plans to build ballparks in Mansfield, said the city's dry status when the company selected its site in April 2004 was not an issue. Alcohol sales at the park, however, did become a hotly contested issue early this year when residents passed a proposition urging the TABC to reject Big League Dream's application for alcohol sales. On the same ballot, voters rejected a proposition to ban alcohol sales at privately leased and operated public parks. Demographics' role Sissy Day, a a spokeswoman for Big League Dreams, said the company's decision to locate in Mansfield favored demographics over the ability to sell alcohol. City of Mansfield spokeswoman Belinda Willis said the initial concern for many residents was that Big League Dreams would serve alcohol during youth or Little League games. "They have since agreed to not sell alcohol ... when there are Little League and youth games at the facility," Willis said. "The only time the taps will be turned back on is when adults are playing." Day runs Texas Petition Strategies, a consulting firm based in Arlington and Austin that helps cities, political action committees and chambers through the local option election process by gathering signatures, issuing press releases and implementing election strategies. Some of TPS' clients include Rowlett, North Richland Hills, Allen, Arlington, Sherman, Melissa and Mansfield -- Metroplex cities that passed alcohol referendums. Plano's conversion to entirely wet is helping attract retailers and staunch retail bleeding that occurred when retailers and restaurants opted to locate in nearby Frisco or McKinney. "We were losing out," said Brad Shanklin, president of the Plano Chamber of Commerce. "We are starting to see new restaurants along raw areas to the northern border of Plano, and expansion of those that already existed." Not all cities are welcoming alcohol sales. There are 43 totally dry cities or precincts within Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties. In Rockwall County, voters recently rejected an initiative that would have allowed convenience and grocery stores to sell beer and wine.
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