Towns hoping for more liquor licenses to spur economic development  

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By Ann Marie Shambaugh

Whitestown has been pegged as one of the fastest growing towns in Indiana in recent years, but town officials believe an “antiquated” law has been holding it back from even greater growth.

The town is out of three-way alcoholic beverage licenses, meaning that any restaurant or other establishment looking to sell beer, wine and liquor must look elsewhere. But there’s not many urban areas left for developers to go, as many other fast-growing towns are encountering the same problem. The Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission website states that “the available license quota is filled in 99 percent of areas that are inside city limits.”

A bit of relief could be in sight, however, as a bill that would provide four additional liquor licenses each for Whitestown, Zionsville, Lebanon, Carmel, Westfield and Fishers has wound its way through the state legislature and could soon be law.

Whitestown Town Manager Dax Norton has visited the Statehouse to lobby for HB1386. He said a developer is interested in building a major retail center in Whitestown that would be similar to Hamilton Town Center in Noblesville, but the inability for new establishments to sell liquor has stalled the project.

“These quality, sit-down restaurants are what the millenials are longing for, and they drive economic development,” he said. “The way we do this census-based licensing is a little bit antiquated.”

State law distributes liquor licenses based on population, but with a census done only once every 10 years, fast-growing towns miss out on economic development opportunities, Norton said. Whitestown recently spent about $140,000 to conduct a special census with a goal of obtaining additional liquor licenses.

“It will bring in $1.9 million in revenue to the town from 2017 to 2022,” Norton said. “It will pay for itself in one year.”

Zionsville Mayor Tim Haak said that he isn’t aware of his town losing out on economic development opportunities because of a lack of liquor licenses, but he said the town is at a point where the lack of available licenses could soon become an issue.

“If we’re not out of liquor licenses, we’re really close,” he said.

He also said that town officials had discussed conducting a special census, but decided not to pursue it because of the cost.

As of March 3, HB 1386 had been approved by the Senate with amendments and sent back to the House for final approval. Legislators could approve the amended version, work through a committee to make additional amendments or drop the bill altogether.

Norton said the Whitestown Town Council is expected to approve an ordinance at its March 9 meeting that will establish regulatory legislation for the town’s new licenses if the state approves them.

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