Legislators OK alcohol in suites, beer garden at TCF games

Gov. Mark Dayton will sign the bill, but the Board of Regents has the final say on stadium sales.
April 24, 2012

Gophers football fans may soon be able to drink alcohol in TCF Bank Stadium.

The state House passed the omnibus liquor bill Monday by a vote of 115-13, sending the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton. The bill includes a provision to allow the sale of alcohol in suites for premium ticket holders and in a beer garden for the general public. The Senate passed the bill, 55-3, Friday.

Dayton will sign the bill, Katharine Tinucci, his spokeswoman, said in an email.

The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents would have the final say on the stadium selling alcohol in the stadium, but board Chair Linda Cohen has previously signaled support for the change.

The University originally wanted to sell alcohol only in premium seats. However, in 2009 the state Legislature said that alcohol should be sold either throughout the entire stadium or not at all.

The University opted for an alcohol-free policy and suffered large revenue losses from the lack of alcohol in premium seats, athletics director Joel Maturi said. Because the University couldn’t sell alcohol, suite leasers were offered either a 10-percent discount per year or a 20-percent discount over the length of the lease, athletics spokesman Garry Bowman previously told the Minnesota Daily.

Cohen said that the absence of alcohol has impacted suite sales.

“Not selling suites has been a problem, and suites haven’t been easy to sell,” Cohen said. “Not selling alcohol has been a factor.”

A group of University officials is currently crafting recommendations about how to implement the policy and work around any issues related to alcohol being sold in the stadium. The group will give recommendations to Maturi and Vice President of University Services Kathleen O’Brien, who will present them to University President Eric Kaler. Kaler will ultimately present them to the Board of Regents.

O’Brien said she expects to receive recommendations in May, and the board could act in June or July.

The group, which includes officials from Parking and Transportation Services, police and University Dining Services, began meeting three weeks ago when the legislation started making progress, O’Brien said.

Cohen said the previous mandate from the Legislature to sell alcohol throughout the stadium would have been unmanageable. She said a beer garden would be a more controlled setting.

“A beer garden would be monitored closely,” Cohen said. “People wouldn’t have to rush and drink a lot before the game. They could slow down and enjoy a glass of beer while watching the game.”

O’Brien said specific regulations and rules for the beer garden are still being discussed.

“This change will allow alcohol to be served in designated areas, and it is unlikely alcohol would be served outside of those areas,” she said. “Really limiting having a beer or a glass of wine to going to this particular defined area and then going back to your seat I think will, in some ways, naturally regulate consumption.”

Todd Iverson, assistant director of government relations, said he’s talked to a few regents who’ve indicated they are open to this approach.

Cohen said she has not specifically polled the regents but said they realize that the losses from suite sales have had an impact.

Maturi said no other Big Ten school  allows alcohol sales in stadium general seating.

University police Chief Greg Hestness, a member of the working group, said his goal is to create a “safe and hospitable environment.” He added that security likely won’t be a major factor, as alcohol was sold at the Metrodome prior to TCF Bank Stadium’s opening, and some people already come to the stadium intoxicated.

“Personally I’m not as concerned about the college crowd versus the professional crowd where alcohol is abused by many,” Maturi said. “We certainly have to make sure we do our due diligence from a serving and security standpoint that our patrons have a collegiate environment and game experience.”

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, who authored the amendment, said a recent change in the bill required the stadium to sell at least one Minnesota-brewed beer.

Atkins said there have been challenges from the beginning of the debate about who should be able to buy beer at the stadium.

“There were a lot of House members, an overwhelming number in fact, that believed that the folks that helped pay for the stadium, the Minnesota taxpayers, who would just be down in the regular seats, deserved to have the right to buy a beer too,” Atkins said.

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