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Calgary’s plan for booze in parks is kicking industry while it’s down: Bar owner

EEven in January, warm Chinook winds can drive a glut of customers to the upstairs patio at Broken City

But owner Andrew Brassard is worried that the Calgary’s plan to allow people to have a drink with food in public parks could steal away dwindling customers.

“In a normal climate – I’d be pretty indifferent to it,” said Brassard. “But for three years we’ve been waiting for something positive from some level of government in this industry, and it’s been constant bad news.”

He said he could only shake his head when he heard the announcement earlier this month that the city was looking for citizens’ feedback on the idea of allowing drinking in public parks.

“This is just adding onto a large pile,” he said. “Because we’re at the point now where every customer counts. If we lose one table on a Saturday every weekend to a park, it’s frustrating.”

Brassard is owner of Broken City as well as Texas Lounge and Goliath’s Bath House, all located in the Beltline.

Over the past several years, he’s seen the total property tax double on his establishments, from $57,000 annually in 2015, to $114,000 on his latest bill.

He said that tax increase came at a time when fewer people were coming out due to the economic downturn.

At the same time he’s seen the National Music Centre re-open the King Eddy Bar, which he sees as public money being used to operate a live music venue in direct competition with other private businesses.

“Where’s our money?” He said with a laugh. “The BDC won’t loan bars money. We can’t get funding from anybody. Banks won’t lend anyone money. We have to mortgage our house to pay the city property tax.

“That’s where the picnic thing hits.”

(According to the National Music Centre, as of July 6, 2018, the King Eddy pays the National Music Centre market rates and pays for all of the Eddy’s own operating costs, including heating, lights, salaries, insurance, cost of sales and band fees. It pays property tax to the City of Calgary, as well as income tax both provincially and federally, The King Eddy does not receive financial benefit from its association with the National Music Centre and NMC does not absorb any costs to operate the King Eddy.)

In the announcement earlier this month, Laura Smith, business planner with Calgary Parks, said the plan was driven by feedback they’d received from Calgarians during cannabis consultations.

They launched further, alcohol-specific consultations which wrap up this Thursday to see how – or even if – they should open parks to alcohol.

However Smith made it clear that due to provincial liquor laws, alcohol will only be allowed with the consumption of a meal while sitting at a park picnic table. Even then, the city is considering limiting that to certain parks, and certain areas.

Brassard said those restrictions don’t give him much peace of mind.

“This is where the more I think about it, the more I get frustrated,” he said. “The majority of people will follow those rules, but it’s going to take enforcement. So then there’s extra cost. What’s the cost going to be to the city?”

He said he’s taken the time to fill out the city’s online engagement form with his concerns, but he’s worried that the plan will go ahead since the idea already appears to have broad public support.

“We’re not talking about someone who’s starting a new business and isn’t sure what they’re doing,” he said. “Broken City has been around for 14 years. Texas Lounge and Goliath’s have been around 31 years, and these are the biggest struggles they’ve had in those times.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been amended after the fact to include clarification from the National Music Centre around funding for the King Eddy.