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City votes in favor of third-party vendor serving alcohol at Colonial Arts Center — but only at specific events

BUCKHANNON – Bottoms up! … but only on an occasional basis.

City Council is officially on board with the intermittent serving of beer and wine at the city’s Colonial Arts Center at specifically designated events.

At council’s Jan. 4, 2024, meeting, members unanimously approved the use of a third-party vendor registered with the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration to serve ‘soft’ alcohol — beer and wine only – during specific events at the Colonial Arts Center.

City officials made it clear the practice would occur occasionally – not every event scheduled at the CAC. They also said the CAC Advisory Board, which makes recommendations to council, would vet requests for alcohol availability on a per-event basis.

Dr. Joseph Reed, a retired physician who advises the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, told council he disagreed with the idea, even if alcohol wasn’t served at every event.

“I strongly admire this institution and the people who have worked to make it a success, so in no way am I against that operation,” Reed said, “but my thought is, if we have children participating in events at the theater, that if we allow the serving of alcohol there, it gives the impression to the kids that are coming – and maybe to the community – that you have to have alcohol to entertain.”

“I think this is wrong,” Reed added. “I think that doing things that encourage the possibility of addiction is probably something we don’t want to participate in.”

Reed said he realized the events at which beer and wine would be served would not be child or family-friendly events, but he still believed permitting the serving of alcohol is “probably counterproductive in the long run economically and health-wise.”

Later, when council considered approval of the request, Mayor Robbie Skinner repeated a few key points.

“I want to reiterate to everyone that we did try this on a conditional basis back in the fall for about three months, and it did work out seemingly very well,” he said.

Skinner emphasized that a third-party vendor – not the City of Buckhannon – would be selling and serving the alcohol, which has been limited to beer and wine products only.

“Just to clarify, we, as a city, are not providing the alcohol; we are not selling the alcohol,” the mayor said. “We are simply providing a space in which a third-party vendor would come in to sell the alcohol.”

That third-party vendor is responsible for securing its own liquor licensing, catering staff, servers, equipment and the alcohol itself.

“We have a blank slate space – they come in, they set up, and then they leave,” Skinner said. “I also want to make sure that we are all on the same page that this will not be for every event. This will only be for certain events that the [Colonial Arts Center] Board approves, and I believe the board will be reviewing [the issue] each time the alcohol is requested for an event.”

Councilman David Thomas suggested tabling the issue until council could consult with the city Planning Commission at an upcoming meeting Jan. 11.  

City Recorder Randy Sanders, a member of the CAC Board, said he wanted to proceed with the vote, noting that every other similar venue in West Virginia also offered alcohol during at least some the performances they host.

“I appreciate that, David, but I disagree,” Sanders said. “We have a very good board of directors in place with the Colonial Arts Center, and we have good representation throughout the city with our members. We have studied all concerns coming in from outside, but the board itself has determined that this would be an asset for certain events – not all events.”

Sanders said alcohol wouldn’t be sold at events involving kids, like the recent performance of “A Christmas Story.”

“We’re looking at later evening events like dinner theaters, grand opening events, maybe the Board of Trustees of [West Virginia Wesleyan College] wants to hold an event there, fundraising efforts – that kind of thing,” he said. “This has been vetted, and there’s been absolutely no problem whatsoever, so I’d prefer we keep it on the agenda and move forward.”

Skinner admitted he wasn’t initially in favor of the concept.

“David, I will tell you very candidly, I shared significant concerns about this,” he said. “I was not at all in favor of this, but, as Mr. Sanders said, we have a great board in place, and that board was charged with looking at this.”

“So, I stepped back from my initial thought and tried to look at it from a more open-minded standpoint,” the mayor added. “I decided that it was important to yield to the board’s research and request because we did put that board in place.”

Councilwoman Pam Bucklew also favored the idea.

“I trust what the board has decided, and the times we did it, it went very well,” Bucklew said. “I can’t see this happening more than two or three times a year, probably at the most.”

McCauley made a motion to approve the request, which was seconded by Bucklew prior to passing unanimously. Councilman CJ Rylands was absent from Thursday’s meeting due to a medical procedure.

In other city business:

  • Skinner invited the public to a special joint working session of Buckhannon City Council and the city’s Planning Commission at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, at City Hall to discuss future planning priorities, including affordable housing. An agenda will be published this coming week.
  • Council voted to authorize city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins to select a bank where the city will open a special account designated for the first payment from the settlement of the statewide opioid lawsuit, which amounted to over $113,000. The State Auditor’s Office has required municipalities to open special bank accounts where the settlement funds are to be stored.

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