By Sharna Johnson, CNJ staff writer
Curry County commissioners on Tuesday voted 3-2 in favor of allowing the sale of beer and wine at the Special Events Center, reversing an earlier decision against the issue.
Chairman Albin Smith provided the pivotal vote, switching his stance on the issue and joining with commissioners Bobby Sandoval and Pete Hulder in favor of alcohol sales.
The measure approved Tuesday will require events center vendors to provide alcohol licenses and insurance, limiting county liabilities, County Manager Lance Pyle said. The previous proposal called for the county to sell alcohol and would have also included alcohol sales at the fairgrounds.
The vote came after commissioners heard from about a dozen residents, whose comments were predominantly in support of the measure.
Smith said the vote was a difficult decision for him and he spent a lot of time battling his personal opinion on the issue.
He described it as a dichotomy, “in trying to do what one might have in his heart as opposed to what the constituents asked him to do.”
In the end, he voted for what he was asked to do by the people he represents.
“I wanted to vote against it but during the last few weeks especially, the majority of people that had a concern about this asked me to vote for it.”
Opponents argued the sale of beer and wine and the advertising it would involve sends a poor message to youth, degrades family values and increases DWIs and other alcohol-related problems.
Proponents argued the revenue beer and wine sales would generate directly and indirectly through advertising and sponsorship are paramount to the financial operation of the facility and the potential bookings it would bring to the area.
Pyle presented the modified proposal to commissioners, which will allow event bookers to choose if they want beer and wine sold at their event.
Pyle and Administrative Services Coordinator Connie Harrison told commissioners several groups interested in booking the center have said they will not or cannot book the facility unless beer and wine is available, mainly due to sponsorship issues.
Harrison said the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Finals is interested in booking events in Clovis but, “They can’t come unless we serve it,” she said, noting many rodeo groups and even events considered family-type events are sponsored by beer companies.
Marketing experts have said the facility will average losses around $200,000 a year for the first four years with alcohol sales and sponsorships and $400,000 or more without alcohol sales.
Commissioner Frank Blackburn said he still was not convinced the sale of alcohol would be enough to make up the $200,000 in additional losses projected if the center were dry.
Commissioner Tim Ashley said he has difficulty reconciling a state government that has taken a stance against alcohol and tobacco companies that target youth and a county decision to foster that marketing environment in its facility.