The state Alcohol Control Board has killed plans for a bar at Eaglecrest Ski Area this winter.
In a Monday afternoon vote, the five-person board voted unanimously to reject a recreational site alcohol license for The Old Tower Bar, which had been scheduled to operate during ski season.
“This is a bummer. I think they’re doing the town a disservice, but I’m open to hear all sides,” said Abby Williams, owner of Louie’s Douglas Inn and the person behind The Old Tower Bar, to the Empire afterward.
Monday’s vote came hours before the City and Borough of Juneau was scheduled to approve the liquor license, removing the last significant regulatory hurdle for approval. The topic of a bar at the city-owned ski area has been under discussion for years among members of the ski area’s board and the Juneau community. The Assembly approved the idea in June 2017 and General Manager Dave Scanlan repeatedly said he expected the new pub to open with the 2018-19 snow season.
“That’s unfortunate,” he said to the Empire when told of Monday’s ABC vote.
The board rejected Old Tower Bar’s license as illegal. Under state law, a recreational site license “includes a location where baseball games, car races, hockey games, dog sled racing events, or curling matches are regularly held during a season.” Ski areas aren’t covered by that law.
“Skiing/snowboarding as activities do not share the attributes of the list of examples provided in statute,” Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office director Erika McConnell wrote in a memo to board members. “There are no starting and ending times associated with an event, and if there are competitive events such as ski races, they happen infrequently. This is very different from, for example, a recreational site such as Mulcahy Stadium (in Anchorage) which only serves alcohol one hour before and during Alaska Baseball League games.”
While state law forbids ski areas from receiving a recreational site license, that hasn’t stopped the ABC board before.
At the Aug. 14 meeting of the ABC board, members approved a two-year license renewal for Arctic Valley Ski Area of Anchorage, even though McConnell urged them to reject it and said approval would violate Alaska law.
On Monday, board member Glenn Brady of Fairbanks asked why the board should reject this license when it approved the Arctic Valley license.
Board member Sara Erickson of Kenai said that license was a renewal, and this one would be a new license.
“That one, it seemed like such a crisis to the community (if it wasn’t approved),” she said, and cited legislative support for the Arctic Valley license.
“I don’t want to start a new license like this,” she said.
Board chairman Bob Klein said, “This is a new license, and we have been very hesitant to grant any new recreational site licenses that don’t very specifically follow the law.”
The Alaska Legislature’s audit of the alcohol board, released earlier this year, specifically castigated members for approving recreational site licenses that don’t follow state law.
While both Arctic Valley and Eaglecrest are ski areas, their situations in the alcohol world are different, Klein said.
“The snow might be common to it, but that’s about where it ends,” he said.
Williams said she and the city have invested almost $40,000 in the Eaglecrest bar, which would have been limited to beer and wine.
“I’ve got equipment on site. We have a building permit,” she said. “I saw it as being a quality, long-term business up there.”
Though the Old Tower Bar was denied a recreational site alcohol license, it would be technically possible for the bar to open under a different kind of alcohol license, such as the less restrictive ones used by restaurants or year-round bars.
Williams said that while it would be technically possible, it isn’t financially feasible. A restaurant beer and wine license costs $50,000 on the open market, and a beverage dispensary license used by an ordinary bar costs more than $200,000.
“I don’t have the capital that I have when I opened up Louie’s,” she said. “If I have to buy a beer and wine license, it’s not going to pencil out.”
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.