OPINIONS — January 21, 2010

Michigan a dysfunctional State of being


What follows is another example of how Michigan—in spite of rhetoric from the governor’s office and the state legislature to reform the state—is still finding ways to not deliver services more efficiently and in a timely manner.

In 2008, the Michigan state legislature created a new type of on-premises liquor licenses, namely Redevelopment Project Area and Development District or Area Liquor Licenses. Rockford’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is one such qualified district or area. The legislation stipulates the availability of one new liquor license within the redevelopment project area for every $200,000 of public and private investment in real and personal property over a preceding five-year period. Rockford’s DDA has met and exceeded that financial hurdle—in spades—qualifying for a goodly number of the new class of liquor licenses.

This is all well and good. It was hoped that the new licenses would enhance the quality of life for a city’s residents along with visitors to their community. More importantly, it is felt by many that the new licenses would stimulate economic growth, create jobs and encourage the opening of new businesses.

Now here’s the rub. In the spring of 2009, the owner of the newly rebuilt and vacant downtown Rockford storefront at 123 E. Courtland Street secured a tenant, the Mexican cuisine restaurant Cinco de Mayo. Acquiring one of the new liquor licenses was critical to the venture’s future financial success.

Achieving unanimous Rockford City Council approval for license application to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC), the principals moved forward and initiated the application process on June 3, 2009. At the same time, they commenced with the extremely expensive build-out of the restaurant’s interior. They were aiming for a Harvest Festival 2009 grand opening date and hopeful their new liquor license would be in hand at the same time.

Were they ever wrong. Still without a liquor license on October 5, 2009, Cinco de Mayo opened their doors for business, promising in advertisements in the local newspapers a “full bar coming soon.”

To this day, almost eight months after they initially made application to the MLCC, Cinco de Mayo has yet to receive their liquor license and no one at the state level can tell them when their application may be approved.

All of this is in spite of the fact that the MLCC is in possession of all pertinent required documents: the initial application of June 3, 2009, police investigative background reports at both the state and local level, and most importantly the required upfront $22,600 license fee.

Cinco de Mayo has complied with and met all the requirements of the licensing procedure, and currently approval by the MLCC has been pending for more than two months.

“This is a prime example of why Michigan is in the sorry mess it finds itself. To entice a new business to open, or an established one to improve, take their license fee money upfront and then stonewall the application process is horrible,” said Rockford City Manager Michael Young during January’s City Council meeting.

We couldn’t agree more. Part of the intent of the new class of licenses was to encourage entrepreneurs to open new businesses. To place a license applicant in limbo for months and sometimes years (as was the case with Rockford’s Grill One Eleven) is contrary to the spirit of the legislation and borders on negligent.

It seems the MLCC, an agency within the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth, operates autonomously and meets irregularly, at their pleasure, to grant final approval to a license application.

We would urge the MLCC to work out a systematic process to receive, process, investigate, and grant new liquor license applications “in a timely manner.” Furthermore, we would encourage the MLCC to convene and do the right thing by approving and granting the long-sought license to (a possibly struggling) Cinco de Mayo and, for that matter, other applicants finding themselves in the same situation in these hard economic times.

Personal feelings about alcohol consumption aside, readers who share our outrage at the injustice being perpetrated by the MLCC on Cinco de Mayo, and most certainly others, are encouraged to clip out this column and mail it to the governor’s office at Gov. Jennifer Granholm, PO Box 30013, Lansing, MI 48909, and to the offices of State Senator Mark Jensen, PO Box 30036, Lansing, MI 48909, and State Representative Tom Pierce at N-1092 House Office Building, PO Box 30014, Lansing MI 48933.

Yes, receipt of good old-fashioned U.S. Mail speaks louder to politicians than phone calls or e-mails.

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