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City council changes its mind on liquor store move

Three weeks after the Farmington City Council members supported a plan to relocate the city's downtown liquor store, council members have voted to keep the store right where it is.

At a workshop meeting last month, three of the five council members indicated they favored moving the downtown liquor store from its present City Center location off of Elm Street to a vacant space in the Tamarack Ridge Center on Highway 3. But in the three weeks since, council member Christy Jo Fogarty has changed her mind. On Monday, council members voted 3-2 to sign a five year lease for the liquor store's current space.

The city currently pays $21 per square foot for rent at the City Center location. Tamarack representatives offered the city a rate of $9 per square foot for the first year, to increase to $12 per square foot at the end of a seven-year contract. After seeing the Tamarack offer, though, City Center owner Tom Wartman dropped his rent to $13.50 per square foot, to increase to $15.50 per square foot at the end of a five year lease.

During the June 11 workshop, Fogarty voted with Julie May and Jason Bartholomay to support moving the liquor store to Tamarack Ridge, with the understanding there would be some costs associated with retrofitting the space to meet the liquor store's needs.

However, prior to Monday's council meeting, Fogarty changed her mind. Citing a concern of tying a future council into a seven-year lease with no options of getting out, Fogarty said she now feels the five-year lease at City Center is the better option.

But she also chastised Wartman for his dealings with the city.

"You were unwilling to negotiate with us (until another offer came along)," she said.

Bartholomay also expressed disappointment with Wartman's reluctance to work with the city.

"A good indicator for future behavior is to look at past behavior," Bartholomay said.

That wasn't Bartholomay's only reason for favoring the Tamarack site. Recent financial statements suggest the downtown store still does not turn a profit most months, and Bartholomay blames much of that on the store's location. He also cited better visibility from Highway 3 and more households in the neighborhood as aspects he liked about the Tamarack location.

Discussion among council members got heated as opposing views were aired. Mayor Todd Larson had to stop discussion, saying he would not tolerate council members interrupting one another or staff.

On a 3-2 vote, the city council approved a motion to enter into a five-year lease with Wartman and stay at the City Center location. Bartholomay and May cast the dissenting votes, both saying "absolutely not." City administrator David McKnight was also instructed to work with Wartman to develop an addendum to the lease that would allow the city to get out of the agreement if a future council wanted to end the municipal liquor business in Farmington.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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