August 17, 2012 by Sarah M
By Nick Halter
Minneapolis City Council Member Meg Tuthill today responded to some serious internet backlash over a recorded voicemail she left with a prospective brewery that was interested in opening a taproom on 25th and Hennepin Avenue South.
The voicemail, which was left about three weeks ago, sounds pretty harsh. Here’s a link to the audio, and below is a transcript. A quick primer: The brewery was asking Tuthill to change a recent ordinance that required liquor stores to be at least 300 feet from a school’s front doors. The brewery, according to Tuthill, wants to sell growlers of beer, making it an off-sale establishment within 300 feet of nearby Jefferson Elementary.
I have an e-mail here that you would like to open a business in the Hennepin and Lake area. First of all, let me just tell you, geographically 25th and Hennepin is not Uptown —(just) so that you kind of know your neighborhoods.
Secondly, I love the statement that it says ‘being the first microbrewery in the area would be a great fit with our target customers and will help revitalize the Uptown area. Are you kidding? It’s revitalized, honey. It does not need to be revitalized. The reason you want to come there is because it is revitalized and it’s doing just fine.
However, you are certainly welcome to open your brewpub there, as long as you meet current city ordinances, and no I will not be changing the ordinance for you. I don’t work on changing ordinances, and neither do any of my colleagues, for one business.
Have a great day.
The audio was posted on Sound Cloud by the Minnesota Beer Activists. I called the group today to get the name of the aspiring brewers. The president, Andrew Schmitt, said the aspiring brewers would send out a statement tomorrow, but declined to identify them until then. Tuthill declined to forward me the e-mail the brewers sent because she didn’t want to discourage people from e-mailing her office.
Some have called out Tuthill, who represents Uptown and the surrounding area, for turning her back on someone who wants to open a business in a vacant storefront. Mayor R.T. Rybak’s son Charlie tweeted this yesterday after listening to the audio.
“UPTOWN’S ALREADY BACK, SO (Expletive) OFF, JOB CREATOR”
Tuthill said the brewery asked for an ordinance change or a variance. She said businesses can’t get variances for on-sale liquor licenses, so that left only an ordinance change.
“He asked for a change for one business, and our policy here has historically been that we don’t change zoning for one business,” she said.
That hasn’t always been true. For instance, Council Member Gary Schiff last spring authored an ordinance change to allow breweries to open near churches. He did it for the sake of Dangerous Man Brewing Company, which wanted to open in Northeast. The ordinance change passed, and Dangerous Man is working on opening the brewery by the end of the year.
“Schiff does that in his ward a lot. In my ward that’s not done so much. And it’s not done so much in the 7th ward (downtown) or other wards,” Tuthill said. “There are a lot of us who think we shouldn’t be changing zoning for one business.”
Dangerous Man, it should be noted, is planning to open in Ward 3, which is outside of Schiff’s Ward 9.
Here’s the strange twist in the story. It was Tuthill who authored the ordinance change back in February that would prevent growler sales at the potential brewery location. That was when entrepreneur Dan Kerkinni was applying to the city for a license to open a liquor store on that same intersection. He didn’t need an ordinance change. He just needed city approval for his liquor license.
At the same time, Tuthill was authoring an ordinance change to spacing requirements. Previously, a liquor store couldn’t open within 300 feet of a school’s front door. Her change made it so a liquor store couldn’t open within 300 feet of a school’s lot line, disqualifying Kerkinni from getting a liquor license.
Tuthill says she was working on the ordinance change before she knew of Kerkinni’s plans. Kerkinni, at the time, said he felt as though he was targeted.
Tuthill was also criticized for being rude to a prospective business in her voicemail.
“Well it certainly wasn’t my intention, but I have to tell you that it does get my hackles up a little bit when someone makes an insinuation that the area needs revitalization and it doesn’t.
“I mean, this is the reason rents are so high in the community is that it already is revitalized and people want to be here,” Tuthill said. “After 40 years of hearing people refer to your community as ‘needs revitalization, is blighted,’ I mean, you get a little sensitive when it’s your community and you’ve lived there and worked really hard to make it the kind of place where people will come and open up their businesses and live there and stay until they’re 110 years old.”
And why did she get so perturbed by the reference to 25th and Hennepin as Uptown? After all, it’s only about five blocks from Hennepin and Lake.
Tuthill has a deep connection with that intersection. She and her husband owned Tuthill Balloon Emporium at 25th and Hennepin for 30 years. She was also one of the founding members of what was then the South Hennepin Business Association.
“Well, when you owned a businesses on 25th and Hennepin for 30 years and people would say ‘I’m at Hennepin and Lake, where are you? I thought you were in Uptown.’
“When you were one of the founders of the business association on South Hennepin, you have a tendency to be very protective of it, because you put that organization together,” she said.
Finally, I asked Tuthill why she didn’t do more to help the aspiring brewers. While breweries are opening up all over the city, none have made a home in Southwest Minneapolis.
“We have CPED (Community Planning and Economic Development) that does economic development in the city, and certainly they could work with them,” Tuthill said.
Schmitt said the brewers, if they couldn’t get the ordinance changed to sell growlers, would likely have to open somewhere else.
Tuthill said she doesn’t want to be described as anti-business.
“The thing I want to be clear on is I’m not anti-business,” she said. “But we do have ordinances in the city for a reason and I think that’s part of what we have to look at.”