Pictured, from left, are Buckhannon City Recorder Randy Sanders, Mayor Robbie Skinner and Councilman Jack Reger at city council's Aug. 17 meeting. / Photo by Katie Kuba

City to ‘explore’ obtaining liquor license for Event Center at Brushy Fork

BUCKHANNON – City council on Thursday voted to authorize the City of Buckhannon to explore obtaining a liquor license, which would permit it to serve alcoholic beverages at the Event Center at Brushy Fork.

Although the facility is owned by the West Virginia Army National Guard, as of March 31, 2023, the city assumed management of the Brushy Fork Center for a one-year trial basis from the Upshur County Convention & Visitors Bureau. That occurred because the Upshur CVB could no longer operate the facility due to new state law that dictated how CVB funds must be spent, and as a result, the CVB was at risk of losing its accreditation.  

Tammy Reger, executive director of the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce, addressed council at its Aug. 17 meeting, asking members to consider allowing alcoholic beverages to be served at both the Event Center at Brushy Fork and the Colonial Arts Center.

“The Chamber currently uses the Event Center for some fundraising events, including the annual dinner; that is why we moved the annual dinner to the Event Center – because the alcohol was there,” she said. “We want to have an event in October with BOOOOCKHANNON [a month-long Halloween events initiative] at the Colonial Arts Center where we would serve dinner, and BCT would do a program. We need to be able to serve alcohol to get those ticket amounts to where we can make enough money for that fundraiser to even be possible, so we would really love to see the city consider being able to serve alcohol in both of those buildings.”

Reger said if alcohol can’t be served – especially at the Brushy Fork Event Center – that would impede the Chamber’s ability to bring in revenue.

“Without that, the Chamber’s not funded, so we rely on fundraisers, and we do them throughout the year,” she said. “[The Murder Mystery Dinner] would be our third large fundraiser this year. Without alcohol, it’s really going to hurt us as far as ticket sales go.”

Initially, a single item had been placed on the agenda regarding a ‘discussion about the sale of alcohol for special events’ at both the Event Center at Brushy Fork and the Colonial Arts Center. However, because council discussed allowing a third-party vendor that was already licensed to serve beer and wine on a ‘pilot-program’ basis for two October events at the CAC, city recorder Randy Sanders said he thought they should be considered separately.

“At the Event Center, we will be requesting to have a full bar and to seek an alcohol beverage license is my recommendation, and not everybody agrees with it, but that’s where the profitability factor will come in,” Sanders said. “If the city continues running the Event Center, we cannot allow a third party to just come in and benefit from all of the profits from those sales while we’re just working on a very small rental fee. It just doesn’t make sense for that particular venue.”

Council agreed to vote on the items separately, and although it wasn’t listed on the agenda, Mayor Robbie Skinner requested that council enter into an executive session to discuss property matters relative to serving alcohol at the Event Center.

“I have some information I want to share with you today from a conversation that I had with the mayor of Summersville, so that would be relative to property matters,” Skinner said.

After a 25-minute executive session, council returned to regular session, and Skinner deferred to Sanders.

Sanders explained the CVB essentially had no other option than to relinquish management of the Event Center to the city due to updated state law. According to previous My Buckhannon articles, to remain accredited, salaries should be about 40% of the CVB’s budget, marketing another 40% and operating costs 20%. Previously, those ratios were simply guidelines, not law.

“Because of the cost of operating the Event Center, that percentage was way skewed, so they were at a point of risking losing their accreditation as a CVB, so we have been operating it since that time,” Sanders said. “So, in order for us to move forward and explore the possibility of hiring a full-time Event Center manager and market it appropriately, I would like to recommend to council that it approve the city exploring obtaining a liquor license under the name of the city.”

Sanders said the City of Buckhannon acquiring a liquor license would enable the city to retain all of the revenue and profits from serving alcohol at special events — funds that would offset the cost of operating the facility. Skinner then noted the license would be “in the name of the City of Buckhannon.”

Councilman David Thomas made a motion to authorize the city to “explore” obtaining a liquor license for the sale of alcohol at special events at the Brushy Fork Event Center, and councilwoman Pam Bucklew seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously, with just one abstention by councilman CJ Rylands due to a conflict of interest. Rylands owns the Opera House event center on Main Street, which could potentially compete with the Brushy Fork Event Center for business.

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