Madison County

Berea voters approve sale of alcohol by the drink in some restaurants

More restaurants in Berea will be able to join Boone Tavern in selling alcohol after a vote. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
More restaurants in Berea will be able to join Boone Tavern in selling alcohol after a vote. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

Berea voters on Tuesday approved the sale of alcohol by the drink in certain restaurants.

The vote was 1,476-1,113 to approve alcohol sales. Berea, known for its crafts and artisan community, has an estimated population of more than 14,000 residents. Turnout among registered voters was greater than 24 percent.

Except for Boone Tavern, which started selling alcohol by the drink last year, Berea has been a dry community.

Berea Mayor Steve Connelly said the vote means that the city will improve tourism with "quality nightlife," promote locally owned restaurants and explore opportunities for "craft alcohol."

"I would say the size of the vote shows the engagement of our citizens on both sides in this referendum," Connelly said. "This yes vote signals that the voters of Berea are ready to use alcohol as a means to create jobs, build Berea's economy and improve our quality of life."

Passage of the ballot measure does not mean Berea will have bars and package stores like neighboring Richmond. Instead, only restaurants that seat at least 50 and that derive at least 70 percent of their gross receipts from food will be allowed to sell alcohol.

Mayor Connelly had argued that Berea stands to gain revenue through the net profits tax from additional retail sales and through occupational license fees from additional employment.

In newspaper advertisements, opponents had cited statistics about alcohol abuse, alcohol-related vehicle crashes, and alcohol-related date rapes and sexual assaults.

The Rev. Kenny Davis Jr., pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Berea, said he was disappointed by the result.

"It's not going to be the economic windfall that people have been told," Davis said. "The societal cost will outweigh any economic benefit that we gain."

A 2010 study estimated that revenue from an existing restaurant tax could increase by 20 percent if alcohol were sold. After a period of time, the estimated tax revenue could increase by 30 percent, the study said.

Since October 2014, alcohol has been sold at Boone Tavern, the 106-year-old restaurant owned by Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South.

Limited alcohol sales by the glass were approved in 2012 in a single voting precinct containing Boone Tavern, but the college didn't allow actual sales to start until last year. Alcohol is still prohibited on the college campus.

Aside from Richmond and Boone Tavern, the only other places that legally sell alcohol in Madison County are The University Club at Arlington, which has a golf course, and Boone's Trace National Golf Club. Acres of Land Winery, a small farm winery west of Richmond, also sold alcohol before it closed and was sold at auction in 2014.

Jackson and Rockcastle counties on Madison County's southern border are dry, but other counties surrounding Madison — Garrard, Jessamine, Fayette, Clark and Estill — each have at least one community that sells alcohol.

Alcohol sales won't start right away. The earliest that Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control can accept applications for sales is 60 days after the election result has been certified by the county board of elections.

Meanwhile, organizers in Grant County on the Interstate 75 corridor about 80 miles north of Berea announced last week that they believe they have enough signatures in a petition drive to put the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages on the ballot. The signatures have not been verified by the county clerk's office, so a date for an election has not been scheduled.

The Grant County cities of Dry Ridge, Corinth and Williamstown allow alcohol by the drink in restaurants, but the unincorporated areas of Grant are dry.