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Proposed Valpo riverfront district would bring more liquor licenses to U.S. 30

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The city of Valparaiso is looking at making a riverfront district to bring more liquor licenses to the U.S. 30 area.

Valparaiso has reached its quota of traditional liquor licenses, which are allocated by the state, based on census population. Most of the city's special downtown liquor licenses are also in use. But developers have continued to express interest in liquor licenses, most recently, someone looking to buy the former Bethel Church at U.S. 30 and Horseprairie.

City Attorney Patrick Lyp says one way the city could add licenses is by establishing a riverfront district. "The parcel would need to border at least one side of a river, hence the term 'riverfront district,' although the state has interpreted the word 'river' very, very flexibly," Lyp told the city council Monday.

In this case, the "river" in question would be Salt Creek south of West Street, and the proposed district would encompass the former church property, along with several businesses on the south side of U.S. 30. That would let the city issue as many liquor licenses as it wants within that district.

Lyp proposed charging a $25,000 fee for approved licenses. "The last three-way liquor license at auction downstate went for excess of $300,000, and so, these pieces of paper are very valuable," Lyp explained. That would also help reimburse the city for the cost of making the district.

But the proposal drew some concerns.

Council member Evan Costas felt the city needs to have a larger strategy for creating riverfront districts, rather than designing them for individual establishments. "Liquor licenses are a big deal. And there's a certain amount that are out there right now, and as we add them in, it disrupts the market," Costas said.

Council member Robert Cotton questioned the approval process and wondered if adding liquor licenses to U.S. 30 would impact the downtown area. "When I heard about this, I called a few people who are participants in our downtown program, and they weren't all that excited about it or seemingly engaged," Cotton said.

Resident Walt Breitinger worried the proposed riverfront district would harm the body of water that makes it possible. "Typically, the word 'development' means cutting down trees, putting asphalt. And both of those issues, in the long run, degrade the water quality, and actually lower the economic value of that precious resource," Breitinger told council members.

The Valparaiso City Council will continue discussing the issue on December 12.