A historic theatre in downtown Bloomington is getting a serious make over.
Logan Hunter plans to open an upscale, rustic bar and restaurant called Alchemy in the Princess Theatre location. Although the building won’t be used for its original purpose, Hunter says the bartenders will still put on a show of sorts.
“Everyone who’s sitting upstairs can look down and overlook onto the bar and see the action that’s happening at the bar,” Hunter says.
Hunter scouted locations for his bar for more than four years before locking in this location. He’s faced one challenge after the next in need of fixing, including plumbing, flooding and mold. Another necessity on his list is an alcohol permit.
“At this point, automatically, it’s just a dead end, there are none available,” Hunter says.
That’s because whether certain types of permits are available or not through the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission depends on where you’re at. It’s based off a quota system determined by the size of a town or city’s population.
Indiana State Excise Public Information Officer Heather Lynch says it’s not her job to make the rules, but that the quota system does make sense.
“If there was not a quota system then you could have an entire street that is nothing but alcoholic beverage establishments, and then the next street over and the next steet over,” Lynch says.
There are numerous types of permits for selling alcohol, and there are different ways to get the one you need.
“The hottest commodity so to speak would be a three-way license with carry out, so someone who wanted to have beer, wine and liquor, and then also be able to sell for carry out,” Lynch says.
Ways to get an alcohol permit
The first option for buying a permit is to go to the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and get one for a fixed price. A three-way license, for example, is $1,000. But that’s only if one is available, which can be rare. New ones can be added when a census is done and the population grows. A town can also hold a special census.
People can also buy a permit from a current owner of one or bid on one at an ATC auction. That happens when people don’t renew their permits, for example.
“Some people actually need them for existing establishments, or establishments that they’re planning on building,” Hunter says. “Other people don’t need them and are already running establishments, and they bid on them and buy them so that they can then scalp them if you will, later.”
And the seller picks their price. Hunter says, from his experience, negotiations for a permit can start around $200,000. That’s a huge expense for a new business owner, and, Democratic State Rep. Terri Austin says, possibly an unintended consequence when lawmakers designed the rules.
“The quota system when it was passed, it was actually a great idea to say let’s put some safe guards around alcohol access, but as demographics have changed, as development has changed, economic development has changed drastically,” Austin says.
Legislative leaders this year announced a two-year study into the state’s alcohol statutes. Some lawmakers called for a comprehensive overhaul of alcohol laws after controversy erupted when Ricker’s convenience store legally began selling cold beer through a loophole.
Austin says she doesn’t want to predict future changes to the laws, but she thinks everything is on the table for discussion, including permit processes.
“We know that if we’re going to be responsive to the public, we’ve got to take a look at everything and we’re going to have to find a way to make it work, both from a safety and access stand point, but also changing consumer norms,” she says.
She suggests the public stay tuned in, and be aware of the issue.
Hunter says he understands reforming the alcohol permitting process is a slippery slope, but something has to change.
“Having no licenses available just causes headaches and frustration, and it also ends up meaning that you’re going to lose out on a lot things that could bolster the economy in Monroe County,” Hunter says.
Hunter is moving forward with renovations of his bar, which he plans to open sometime in the fall.