Deb Tracy's interest in limiting the number of liquor licenses in Cape Girardeau drew no support Monday night from her fellow city council members, who argued that it would stifle free enterprise or could even result in unintended economic consequences.
During the council's study session, the council elbowed aside Tracy's suggestion, although some agreed that something should be done to plan for downtown growth in anticipation of Isle of Capri's new $125 million casino.
Just not that.
"I'd be very apprehensive about infringing upon supply and demand," Mayor Harry Rediger said. "Unless I'm convinced otherwise, I'd be real hesitant to go further."
Rediger instead directed city manager Scott Meyer to draft a report based on what other more rural communities that have casinos have done, with an eye toward stepping up enforcement or attaching more across-the-board restrictions to existing liquor licenses.
Tracy, who represents Ward 3, asked for a memo about limiting liquor licenses, she said, based on concerns she heard from constituents that a new casino could mean more bars and liquor stores opening downtown. Isle of Capri's casino is under construction and slated for a late 2012 opening.
"I think this could be a positive conversation," Tracy said. "I thought it was one we should begin to have and it didn't begin with me. It began with the residents. I don't have an agenda, but I do have quality of life at the top of my list."
But most other council members spoke out against the idea and none spoke in outright support of it.
"I'd be very uncomfortable adding any more government control on the business community," said Ward 6 member Kathy Swan. "It's a dangerous position to take and one that stifles the free enterprise system."
Council member Mark Lanzotti, who represents Ward 5, said he could envision a scenario where such limits could have detrimental results, such as a national retailer who wants to open a new business in Cape Girardeau, but can't. Another scenario, he said, would be an established business that was late on refiling for its liquor license renewal and was then forced to close.
"It seems to be micromanagement," Lanzotti said. "The reality is we may be stuck with an entertainment-type downtown district. If you want, you can knock on it, but that's the kind of people who are willing to risk their capital."
It was Lanzotti who suggested taking a look at unilaterally imposing additional restrictions on existing liquor license holders. He said the council doesn't have enough authority to deny liquor licenses because they are ministerial acts. That means if they meet certain city requirements, they can't legally be denied.
"In essence, we could say that if your bar habitually litters, we won't renew," Lanzotti said. "I hate that we had to get to Margarita Mama's before we could actually deny. ... But we have to apply these rules equally."
A year ago, the council denied a liquor license to Margarita Mama's on Main Street because police said it had become a magnet for underage drinking and patrons prone to violent outbursts.
Lanzotti said the key to implementing change was through zoning, not restrictions.
Tracy said she just thought it was an idea worth looking at.
"The more conversation the better, to find out what everybody wants instead of one core group or two core groups," she said. "I would like to think we could have some conversations where we could have some proactive response rather than reactive. Reaction is not always the best mode to take."
She even pointed out that Missouri limited the number of casinos to 13.
"That's a perfect example of government limiting for a reason," she said.
401 Independence, Cape Girardeau, MO