Marquette Park liquor license leads to many questions
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent January 21, 2013 8:58PM
Updated: April 5, 2013 10:02AM
GARY — A liquor license can be a virtual gold card for a business or a governmental agency, but Park Board wrestled last week with what it can mean for a financially struggling department.
The big issue was who will serve drinks at the popular Marquette Park Pavilion, after the Parks Department was awarded a liquor license Jan. 3. Board members have yet to decide if it will train and hire residents to take over the service, allow its caterer Rome’s Joy to do the work or stick with the Genesis Center for alcohol service.
The department has been using the Genesis Center to serve liquor at the pavilion during events, getting about 10 percent of the sales proceeds, in a contract that likely will have a radical change now that Park Department can serve its own liquor.
“There’s lots of responsibility that comes with a liquor license,” said board attorney Cornell Collins, listing collecting sales taxes, training servers and using licensed liquor distributors. “We thought we were going to be done with the Genesis Center, but it just isn’t practical right now.”
Pavilion managers have booked a sizable private event for Jan. 26, and preparing residents trained and ready to serve alcohol by then is highly unlikely, especially given the city’s “very long” procurement and hiring processes, said Parks Superintendent Lori Peterson Latham.
Board members appeared eager to give the work to Gary residents and keep more of the proceeds from liquor sales, instead of getting just a percentage of sales.
Board member Tommy Williams, recently named to the Lake County Alcohol Licensing Board, insisted the department can handle its own liquor service, and in the process give more residents jobs and keep more money in the department.
“Even if we do this as a transition, it’s something we need to do for ourselves,” he said after the meeting.
“We could let someone else do the work for a limited time while we train our own people to do the work.”
The board is taking another look at its contracts with the Genesis Center and Rome’s Joy, which pays the Parks Department less than 10 percent of sales.
A newly proposed contract would boost the city’s portion of Rome’s Joy proceeds to at least 12 percent, even while allowing the firm to hold the lucrative alcohol service work, Collins said, but both contracts will be put on hold until the board decides its next step.
Board members also heard Rome’s Joy has catered 30 events already at the department, with no profits coming to the city, but the firm’s contract is good until 2014.
“We’ve been waiting too long to do this, so two more weeks isn’t going to kill us,” said board member Speros Batistatos.
“Clearly, our having a liquor license is very lucrative to the department.”