Wheaton council debates creating new liquor license for fairground events

 
 
Updated 7/27/2016 12:22 AM
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  • Jim McGuire, manager of the DuPage County Fair Association, says the sale of alcohol at events other than the DuPage County Fair could help fund improvements to the property.

    Jim McGuire, manager of the DuPage County Fair Association, says the sale of alcohol at events other than the DuPage County Fair could help fund improvements to the property. Daily Herald file photo

The Wheaton City Council is considering creating a liquor license class specifically designed for events at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, aside from the annual fair.

Council members have voiced concern, however, over what kind of events the license could be used for and how they would be monitored.

The proposed Class W license states alcohol could be served "only during bona fide events held at the fairground and shall be incidental to the service of food." Proposed hours for the license are 11 a.m. to midnight any day of the week.

Councilman John Rutledge questioned how "bona fide events" would be defined during a meeting where the proposal was introduced.

Jim Kozik, the city's director of planning, said it means the DuPage County Fair Association couldn't operate a bar or sell liquor on the property unless it's done in conjunction with an event it's hosting on the grounds.

But after listening to discussion among council members, city attorney Jim Knippen said the language might need to be changed. He said the phrase "bona fide events" may not be specific enough to meet everyone's concerns.

Councilwoman Suzanne Fitch expressed concern about the city's ability to regulate events where liquor would be served at the fairgrounds.

"Once they get the liquor license they don't have to go before the liquor commission to give them information about a specific event," she said. "There's no case by case determination."

She said other groups, such as the park district and the Downtown Wheaton Association, are required to present their events to the liquor commission. But Councilman Todd Scalzo said the city controls the association's liquor-serving rights if problems arise.

The DuPage County Fair Association currently is the only group interested in applying for the license, but any future properties of at least 30 acres containing open space and buildings used for private and public trade shows, fairs and exhibitions also would be eligible.

Even if the license is created, the association still must apply for an outdoor special event liquor license to host the county fair.

Fair Association Manager Jim McGuire said the group asked the council to create the license to provide a new source of revenue.

"We're looking down the road at a master site plan that would change the grounds significantly and we're looking for the revenue stream to get there," he said. "We want to change the direction of the fairgrounds. We want to make it a new place."

Some neighbors oppose the new license.

Resident Dolores Lee gave the council a petition with about 60 signatures of those unhappy with the proposal.

"There are a lot of events going on over there," she said. "The ones during the day that don't bring in liquor aren't so bad. The nighttime weddings where people are loud, they're just intrusive into the neighborhood. There's lots of drinking going on."

McGuire said the association has responded to parties with loud music and drinking and asked people to leave.

"It shouldn't have happened," he said. "We want to be good neighbors."

The only time liquor is currently sold on the property is during the fair. McGuire said the association has turned away several shows because it wasn't able to sell alcohol.

"They're all niche shows. They're low-key. It's not Lollapalooza. But they bring significant economic impact to the community," he said.

McGuire also promised the council he would hold a neighborhood meeting to explain what the association is trying to do before applying for the license, should the council agree to create it.

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