Alcohol sales at Switchyard Park OK’d by Bloomington park commissioners

cropped 2020-02-27 pavillion IMG_8028
Looking north towards the main pavilion and stage at Bloomington’s Switchyard Park on Feb. 27, 2020. In early spring, the area around the pavilion, and other parts of the park, will be sodded, according to director of parks and recreation Paula McDevitt. The 4-6 weeks it takes for the sod to take root will make the park ready for 2020’s season of events. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Local alcohol beverage vendors who want to sell beer and wine at Switchyard Park will have a chance to do that on a trial basis this year.

The park, which was a $34-million project funded with tax increment finance revenue, had its grand opening last November.

At its Tuesday meeting this week, the board of park commissioners approved a proposal from parks and recreation staff to use outside vendors to sell alcohol at a limited number of Switchyard Park events in the coming 2020 season.

Attendees of Trivia Nights in the Park, movies, Yappy Hours (at the dog park) and Performing Arts Series concerts will be able to purchase beer and wine and drink it in designated areas. Parks and recreation department director Paula McDevitt described the proposal to The Square Beacon as something like temporary beer gardens.

The idea is to select one vendor per event, who will obtain the necessary alcohol permits, and secure a bar area where adults will be able to purchase and drink alcohol inside a designated area.

On Tuesday, Leslie Brinson, community events manager, told the board of park commissioners that the department is proposing the arrangement on a trial basis for this year. The parks department will provide security.

Security and enforcement was a topic brought up by local food entrepreneur Jeff Mease in his remarks delivered from the public podium a week earlier, at the Feb. 19 meeting of the city council.

Measure told the city council it might be a little counterintuitive that he’s against alcohol vending for the concert series, but he opposes the arrangement because he thinks it could create unnecessary conflicts. Mease employs around 250 people around Bloomington in a collection of different businesses, he told the city council.

Mease said that Bloomington residents are accustomed to bringing in their own alcohol for summer concerts held in city parks, even if it’s not allowed.  Mease said that there has been no incentive to try to enforce the regulation against alcohol, because no one has been trying to sell anything.

If a vendor is selling alcohol, then people bringing in their own alcohol could cut into sales, and there would be a reason to try to enforce the regulation, Mease said. The city should not be in the business of selling alcohol in parks but rather on the business of making Bloomington a better place to live, Mease said.

Mease did not address the board of park commissioners on Tuesday.

Under the arrangement with vendors, they will pay the parks department 10 percent of their gross sales on each event—as specified in the department’s concessions agreement.

The 10-percent of gross sales figure for concessions is the same one that has historically been applied to prepared food and beverage vendors (now called food and beverage artisans) at the city’s farmers market. The food and beverage artisans at the farmers market have been advocating for a fixed rate, instead of a percentage of gross sales, along the lines of the stall fees paid by growers at the market.

That advocacy has been at least partly successful. At its January meeting, the board of parks commissioners declined to approve the department’s proposal to maintain the 10-percent-of-sales fee for food and beverage artisans at the farmers market.

On Tuesday, commissioners were presented with a range of lower-percentage alternatives. The farmers market advisory council had recommended a 5-percent fee for food and beverage artisans this year, with the goal of eliminating it, in favor of a fixed stall fee in future years.

A board decision on farmers market food and beverage vendor fees  is expected at its March meeting.

Vendors who are interested in selling alcohol at Switchyard Park in 2020 can contact community relations coordinator Sarah Owen at 812-349-3739.