Beer won't be sold this year at the Crow Wing County Fair.
The Oak Lawn Township Board, by a 2-1 vote, decided against a permit application from the Crow Wing County Fair Board to sell 3.2 beer. Voting against were board members Mark Haglin and Denny Schmidt. Voting for approval was board member Rick Adair.
Dale Domrase, fair general manager, told the township board that the fair board sought the sale of 3.2 beer to generate revenue, noting expenses at the fairgrounds have increased more than 40 percent in the past five years.
The plan called for beer to be sold and consumed in a double-fenced beer garden run by a manager, identification would be checked at the gate and wrist bands would be given to customers.
Domrase said the Crow Wing County Fair was unique among Minnesota county fairs in that it didn't sell beer.
"We're not looking at a beer garden as our only source, just another source that will help us continue to grow at the fair," Domrase said.
Joe Scapanski, director of the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs and member of the Benton County Fair Board, said a number of county fairs across the state are dying because of lack of revenue. He suggested the township board allow beer sales at the fair for one year to determine if it worked.
Haglin, the township board chairman, said of all the issues that have come before the township board during his tenure, the issue of beer sales at the fair has created the most public interest.
He said the county should look at alternatives, such as a special levy, to help generate revenue for the fair.
"It's a tremendous fair and it got to be that way without the advent of selling beer," Haglin said. "I have a terrible time understanding why you'd have to go to the fair to have a beer. I can't support that."
About 40 people attended Tuesday's township board meeting, including a number of members of the Crow Wing County Fair Board and the Crow Wing County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
MADD member Pat Bluth said her group was against selling beer at the fair because it would give people one more venue for alcohol consumption, it would increase drinking and driving and would send the wrong message to children in a community where alcohol abuse is already a problem.
"We as a MADD group cannot see one positive reason to sell beer at a family-oriented event such as the Crow Wing County Fair," Bluth said.
Several other MADD members also addressed the township board, saying the fair is a success without the sale of beer.
"Part of the reason the Crow Wing County Fair is such a special fair is because it doesn't sell beer," said Rose Hauge, Crow Wing County substance abuse prevention specialist.
Haglin also read a letter of opposition from State Patrol Public Information Officer Sgt. Curt Mowers. Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl said his department also had concerns because of the number of people who may be driving after drinking at the fair and the need for increased security by his deputies.
"A number of things can happen once you add alcohol," Dahl said.
Crow Wing County Fair Board President Dan Thesing said the sale of beer was brought up by the fair board as a way to make money outside of charging admission for the fair or raising vendor rents.
Thesing said the idea would be for someone having a hamburger or hotdog to be able to enjoy a beer, not to have someone in the beer garden drinking beer after beer.
"Just give us a chance," Thesing said. "The fair board itself talked about this, we made the decision and we want try it. Oak Lawn Township, all we're asking is give us chance and I guarantee you when we come back next time, if things are not like you thought they were going to be you can deny our liquor license and we probably wouldn't come back again."
Before casting the votes to deny the fair board's application, the township board considered deferring the decision to the Crow Wing County Board, but decided against such a motion when pressed by those in attendance.
Following the meeting, Domrase said he wasn't upset with the township board's decision because he understood its position.
"This brings it to the attention of the Crow Wing County Board how important it is to raise revenue," Domrase said. "We need that."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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