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Wells to move its liquor store

By Staff | Aug 18, 2019

An architect’s rendering of what the new Wells Liquor store could look like.

It took the Wells City Council some time to weigh the pros and cons of moving the Wells Liquor Store from its Broadway Street location to its proposed new location at 201 Third Street NW, right off of Highway 22.

But eventually, they did.

Members of the public were encouraged to attend a public hearing on the matter, and 12 Wells area citizens were in attendance to share their concerns.

City administrator CJ Holl informed the public on the local liquor store’s situation, stating for the past eight years, the liquor store has not been making enough money. Wells has been on the state auditor’s list of stores required to have continuation meetings which is a specified meeting for members of the public to determine if the city should continue with a liquor store or not.

Prior to the local liquor store’s current situation, it historically generated enough profits that went back to the city to support parks, recreation, and other city costs.

According to city auditors Abdo, Eick & Meyers, in 2018 the liquor store fund was at $65,488, which was just enough to cover its operating cash for the store. The auditors recommendation is to have at least $386,988 to cover the debt service and 50 percent of its operating costs.

Holl informed members of the council and community that other stores in similar situations have made moves with their liquor stores to more “visible” locations (off of highways, interstates) with positive results.

The city administrator also stated the Wells Liquor Committee made a recommendation to the Wells City Council earlier in 2019 to move ahead with architectural plans. The council approved the committee’s recommendation, and requested the city administrator and City Hall staff work with architects to develop plans and go through not only a bidding process, but a working financial plan as well.

Other points to consider for the public and for the council were that the proposed new location, commonly called the incubator building, is already owned by the city’s EDA. Holl also informed the public that if the store were to be relocated, both the local food shelf and the local VFW chapter have shown interest in expanding their storefronts into the existing liquor store space. He also made mention of a 12-door cooler the city acquired from the city of Sleepy Eye.

“The cooler is double the size of the existing liquor store cooler and only cost us $1,800. A new unit would cost upwards of $70,000,” said Holl. “That being said, if the city chose not to move forward, the cooler’s compressors are the same as the existing six-door cooler at the liquor store and can be used as parts.”

Liquor store manager Scott Berg, architect Eric Oleson of Oleson & Hobbie, and Jessica Green of Northland Securities, each took the opportunity to address the crowd on how the liquor store has been operating, what the plans for the new location would look like, and how the city would finance the estimated $565,000 project over a 20-year period through general obligation tax abatement bonds.

“Another good news situation on this is that our bids came drastically under the engineer’s estimate, so we would not have to bond for the full $565,000,” said Holl.

Then, it was the public’s opportunity to speak. A number of citizens spoke to the council who were both for and against the proposed project.

“This town is not going to grow big enough and fast enough to support bonding like that,” stated Bob Schultz. “Our USC Rebels have made billboards about how they don’t drink. That’s a lot of booze and beer to try and sell to try and become profitable again.”

“It seems like you guys already have your mind made up,” stated Milt Peterson. “I’m not in favor of it.”

“Why are we not supporting this local business?” questioned Brian Schultze.?”If we get rid of the liquor store, someone will go out of town to get their alcohol and ‘while they’re there’ will spend money at someone else’s grocery store or restaurant or bank. If it’s the liquor store this year, we may be looking at the grocery store next year. We have to keep things local.”

“I can’t make sense of the numbers, guys,” said Ann Schuster, Wells resident and Housing Redevelopment Authority member. “Scott, you do an incredible job. You have worked so hard at bringing the liquor store back from a lot of years of strife. You’ve turned a corner for the store and you should be commended for that. However, it would take 13 new people per day, spending $541 for the next 20 years to pay off these kinds of bonds you are considering. You’re going to be borrowing over $200,000. You will not be able to recover what you’ve put into this business, especially if it goes south even after the move. There are other things I would much rather spend my tax dollars on than this. I have my own concerns about the quality of the incubator building, and I also have concerns about the liquor store moving away from our down town area. I just don’t see it happening.”

Kim Stevermer also brought his expertise in carpentry and construction to concerns of the way the current incubator building is built with structural insulated panels, or SIPs.

“I call it a cookie cutter building,” he said. “You have this strong, durable stuff on the outside with soft gooey insulation on the inside. I’ve worked with these kinds of buildings before. If there’s one little hole, it can get rotten and rotten fast and I don’t think it’ll last more than 10, maybe 15 years.”

After input from the public, it was up to the council to decide the fate of the future of Wells’ liquor store. Questions were asked, concerns were brought up, and ultimately, the council chambers became quiet as each member weighed their own feelings into the matter.

“We’ve gotta try,” councilman John Herman stated, finally.

“The issue I had was a vacant space downtown,” said Mayor David Braun. “And the VFW solved it.”

“If we stay where we are at, we won’t make it,” said Berg to the council. “With a new industrial park, a new assisted living building and highway visibility, I really think we have a chance at this.”

It was Councilwoman Crystal Dulas, a member of the original liquor store committee, who made a motion to approve Resolution 2019-19 to accept bids for the Wells Liquor Store construction. A roll call vote was made with all members of the council, except Councilwoman Brenda Weber who voted no, approving of Dulas’ motion.

The bids for the project included Ankeny Builders Inc, at $371,568, APX Construction Group at $424,000, Mohs Construction at $437,000, and United Builders at $469,000. Councilman Herman made a motion to accept the bid from Ankeny Builders Inc., with Dulas abstaining, and the motion passed.

Wells council members also passed Resolution 2019-18 approving property tax abatements for the project.