Battle for liquor license may end in win-win

New hotel may be able to use bar and grill liquor license, allowing fitness center to have last retail permit


On Monday night, the developer of the Powell Clocktower Inn pitched Powell City Council members as to why the planned hotel and conference center needs the city’s last available retail liquor license.

But Steve Wahrlich also told the council of a potential alternative that could make winners of both businesses that have applied for the license.

Wahrlich said that while a liquor license is absolutely essential for the Powell Clocktower Inn, it may be able to succeed with a bar and grill liquor license. That would leave the retail liquor license available for a proposed fitness club and sports bar.

“I’m still moving ahead with the [request for the] retail license as we stand here right now,” Wahrlich said, but “it’s possible come next week that I could pull that application and apply for a bar and grill license — in which case, then, the decision for council becomes extremely easy and it’s a great work-out solution.”

If the Powell Clocktower continues to pursue the retail liquor license, council members will have to choose whether to award the license to the hotel or to Club Dauntless. The business — which currently has a location in Lovell — is hoping to expand into Powell with not only a fitness center but also a Dauntless Club sports bar featuring a golf simulator. Co-owner Stacy Bair pitched the council on her business plan earlier this month.

The difficulty for the council is that the state limits the number of retail liquor licenses a city can issue, based on population. With 13 retail licenses already issued, only one remains.

However, Powell currently has two bar and grill licenses still available. Unlike a retail liquor license, they come with a requirement that 60 percent of the business’s sales come from food and no more than 40 percent from alcohol sales.

“That for me is not an issue, not a problem whatsoever,” Wahrlich said of the 60-40 requirement.

What Wahrlich wants to make sure of before applying for a bar and grill license is that the Powell Clocktower Inn can meet the letter and spirit of the restaurant requirement. That requires serving breakfast and being open to the public.

“I think that’s ultimately in the best interest if I can make it work,” Wahrlich said of the bar and grill license. “What I don’t want to do is cut my nose off and spite my face” by making the wrong decision.

As of Monday’s meeting, he was waiting for some additional information from the Wyoming Department of Revenue’s Liquor Division.

There is a $5,000 application fee for a bar and grill license versus $1,500 for a retail liquor license, though the yearly renewal fee for both licenses is $1,500.

But whether the Powell Clocktower Inn ultimately chooses to go with a retail or bar and grill liquor license, Wahrlich believes the right kind of license is essential to its success.

“Without having alcohol as part of that [at] meetings [and] banquets, I feel that quite honestly I would be no different than the college’s conference center from that standpoint, the difference being that I do have rooms connected to it, they don’t,” Wahrlich said.

He told the council that Marriott estimates a well-run, well-conceived restaurant will add 5-10 points of occupancy to a hotel, and that not having the proper liquor license would hurt the hotel and conference center — and Powell itself.

“I feel that there could be a 10-15 percent drop in the occupancy,” Wahrlich said. “Over a five-year total, that would mean $1.8 million in revenue that would be lost from that standpoint.” He added that it could also mean an economic impact of $3.8 million for Powell and Park County.

Not having a liquor license could potentially reduce staff by one-fourth to one-third and cause potential conferences to go elsewhere, he told the council. If the Powell Clocktower Inn doesn’t have a license and competes for guests with the Cody Holiday Inn, which has a liquor license, “my belief is the Holiday Inn in Cody will win out,” Wahrlich said.

Wahrlich said that he has pursued other alternatives to applying for a retail liquor license, but none of them besides the bar and grill license have panned out. For instance, he said he tried buying a license from a current license-holder, but no one would sell.

As for other types of available licenses, Wahrlich said:

• A catering license is limited to 36 events, and each day of an event counts as a separate event in some cases.

• A resort license requires 100 rooms — more than what the Powell Clocktower Inn will have — and the food side of a resort license brings difficult to meet requirements.

• A restaurant license requires a dispensing room, which would mean that nobody under 21 could be in the back half of the Powell Clocktower Inn lobby.

After Wahrlich’s presentation, councilman Eric Paul expressed hope that the council could somehow accommodate both Powell Clocktower Inn and Club Dauntless, which are each planned for the Gateway West business park on Powell’s west side.

“I think I could probably safely speak for everybody: These are two very good ... situations for Powell,” Paul said of the businesses. “I think we would like to make sure we explore every opportunity to make sure that we can accommodate, ideally, both.”

Powell Mayor John Wetzel echoed Paul’s sentiments.

“I know this hasn’t been the most fun thing for everybody to work through, but I appreciate [Wahrlich’s] hard work, I appreciate Stacy [Bair] and her team’s hard work and staff’s hard work to continue to talk,” Wetzel said.

“I do feel like this will work to go this route,” he said of the Powell Clocktower Inn seeking a bar and grill license.

The city is a partner on the project, working with Wahrlich and Powell Economic Partnership to help secure a $2.62 million state grant to initially fund the conference center portion of the facility; during Monday’s meeting, the council amended the operations agreement between the city and the Powell Clocktower Inn to mention the need for a liquor license.

As for the privately financed hotel portion of the project, Wahrlich told the council that a formal application for financing would be made at a local bank the first week of December and that he was looking for “a couple of more investors.”

A third business — C Enterprises, LLC — also applied for the retail liquor license last week, but quickly dropped out of the running. C Enterprises’ application proposed opening an establishment called Rev’s Place at Specialty Tool & Attachment’s current location on Gateway Drive, across from the planned hotel. However, that application was withdrawn the following day.

In other business on Monday, the council voted to renew all 21 current liquor licenses — 13 retail, five microbrewery and three restaurant licenses.

The council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the retail liquor license on Dec. 3.