Debate over Frisco alcohol election heats up in days before early voting
With less than a week before early voting begins, the debate over alcohol sales in Frisco is heating up.
Proponents of the May 7 ballot measure that aims to make the city totally wet for alcohol sales held a news conference Wednesday to counter what they say is misinformation being distributed by opponents.
“Their slogan is all about trusted leaders, but if we can’t trust them to tell the truth, why should we trust them with our vote?” asked Jeannean Hefner, a Frisco resident, owner of a medical testing business and treasurer of the Frisco Committee for Economic Growth.
She cites information from the Keeping Frisco First campaign that calls into question the economic impact data cited by her committee. The figures come from a 2008 report by well-known Texas economist Ray Perryman. He issued a letter last week stating that the likely benefits from passage of the alcohol election have been “reasonably represented by the proponents.”
They estimate that Frisco is missing out on $1 million in local sales tax revenue from package liquor stores that would be allowed if the measure passes. The measure’s passage would also allow bars and nightclubs in Frisco.
Bob Allen, a Frisco City Council member who is among the many local leaders involved in the Keeping Frisco First campaign, said he’d have to look more closely at the data. But he still questions whether that $1 million estimate would apply given that the Denton County side of Frisco already allows those types of businesses but doesn’t have any.
“If people wanted liquor stores, why haven’t they come to the wet part of town?” he asked.
The city thwarted one attempt for a liquor store planned along Main Street in 2010 by buying the property and adding a deed restriction to prevent alcohol sales on that site.
The Denton County side of Frisco has been totally wet since a May 2009 election. The city’s Collin County side allows beer and wine sales in stores and mixed drinks in restaurants.
Hefner said the campaign in favor of the effort is backed by people like herself who live and work in Frisco, not the outsiders that the opponents say they are. The campaign also cites the nearly 11,000 Frisco voters who signed the petition to put the measure on the ballot.
The Frisco Chamber of Commerce is among those campaigning against the measure. Chamber president Tony Felker said he’d like to see who among Frisco’s residents favors the expanded alcohol sales. He said he’s seen involvement mainly from Hefner and Texas Petition Strategies, a company based near Austin whose business revolves around getting alcohol measures passed. Texas Petition Strategies was also involved in successful alcohol elections in Frisco in 2002 and 2012.
Felker said he’s also aware of people who signed the petition but oppose the measure now that they better understand it.
The alcohol measure is about a lot more than money, Felker said, adding that it’s also about how and where alcohol businesses can be located. “When you have a loss of local control, it’s hard to put a price tag on that,” he said.
Hefner said the election came about because Wild Pitch Sports Bar & Grill violated its state permit, which limits its revenue from alcohol sales to no more than 50 percent of its total revenue. Estimates from the Texas comptroller put the sports bar’s alcohol revenue last year at more than $3.4 million.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which regulates alcohol sales, gave the sports bar three options — give up its license and close down, convert to a costly private club operation or get an election passed that would allow its higher alcohol sales.
The idea, Hefner said, is to create a uniform set of rules for Frisco and help restaurants that can’t take advantage of late-night alcohol sales because they are already bumping up against the revenue cap.
The Londoner, where Wednesday’s news conference was held, converted to a private club several years ago because it ran into similar issues over the alcohol revenue cap. Private clubs have no limit on the percentage of alcohol sales but must get a specific use permit from the city and must collect driver’s licenses to enroll their customers as members before they can be served alcohol.
“Frisco is a premier place to live,” said Jay Crawford, whose title at The Londoner is director of fun. “For us to have an antiquated law doesn’t make sense.”
But Allen questions whether that makes Frisco antiquated, especially since Plano has the same standard that Frisco does now when it comes to bars and nightclubs.
“To create a level playing field, I think we should look at raising our standards, not lowering them,” Allen said.
The violation for Wild Pitch has been pending with the state since March 2015. TABC records show Wild Pitch’s alcohol sales ranged from 58 percent to 65 percent of its total revenue for every month between February 2013 and October 2015.
“That’s obviously why we’re hoping this passes, so that we can open ourselves up more and expand sales … and not have to worry about trying to meet that requirement,” Wild Pitch general manager Steven Delano said.
He said Wild Pitch would love to take advantage of city regulations allowing bars to operate until 2 a.m., and customers have been asking for the later hours. “We fear exceeding it [the cap] even worse than we already do and fines growing even more,” Delano said.
Frisco council member Will Sowell said one of the concerns is that the city doesn’t have any control over alcohol violations. The situation with Wild Pitch, he said, demonstrates how slow the state’s enforcement mechanisms are.
“I just don’t think that’s in Frisco’s best interest,” he said. “This measure is a very wide-sweeping provision that is masked as ‘Hey, we want to bring things like package liquor sales to Frisco,’ [when] that actually has more to do with just the challenges that one organization has in managing their business model.”
The latest campaign finance reports show the Frisco Committee for Economic Growth has raised $160,000 so far. The Texas Hospitality Association, a nonprofit made up of businesses that sell or serve alcoholic beverages, has donated $90,000. The other $70,000 has been donated by Wild Pitch through a separate state group.
The Keeping Frisco First Campaign has raised $17,700, according to its campaign finance report. The Rudman Partnership and Hillwood Alliance Group each gave $3,000. Newman Real Estate donated $5,000, and Allen personally gave $1,000. A $5,000 in-kind contribution came from Frisco Style magazine.
ON THE BALLOT: Early voting begins Monday, April 25, for the May 7 election. The Frisco measure will ask whether voters are for or against “the legal sale of all alcoholic beverages including mixed beverages.” Visit www.friscowet.com for information in favor of the alcohol measure and www.keepingfriscofirst.com for information against the alcohol measure.
Dallas-area home prices are up 8.6 percent in the latest nationwide comparison.
Home prices in Dallas grew at about twice the national rate of 4.2 percent in February compared to a year ago, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.
Dallas’ increase in the closely-watched monthly report was ahead of the 8.1 percent year-over-year local gain in January.
Dallas had the fourth highest home price gain in the country in February. The largest increases were in Denver, 10 percent, and San Francisco, 9.8 percent.
“Home prices continue to rise and outpace both inflation and wage gains,” S&P’s David M. Blitzer said in the report. “While prices are certainly rebounding, only two cities – Denver and Dallas – have surpassed their housing boom peaks.”
Dallas prices in the Case-Shiller index are now about 13 percent ahead of where they were at the peak of the housing market before the recession.
“Nationally, prices are almost 10 percent below the high set in July 2006,” Blitzer said. “If a complete recovery means new highs all around, we are not there yet.”