Town of Gibraltar to Issue Reserve Liquor License

After being shelved since 1999, the Town of Gibraltar’s reserve Class B liquor license is on its way to being issued.

The town has eight regular liquor licenses and one reserve license. Proprietors of numerous businesses such as Skaliwags and the former Fish Creek Grill have approached the town about the reserve license in the past, but it was never issued, according to town administrator Travis Thyssen. 

“In 1999, the town board did accept the license and created an ordinance to enact it,” he said. “It gets fuzzy there; there wasn’t much information Kelly [Murre, town clerk] could find. But the town put it on a shelf, and it remained a reserve liquor license.” 

During Steve Sohns’ time as chair, the topic came up and was shelved again at least twice, Sohns said. No one remembered the exact reasoning for that choice.

This issue came up again recently when Northern Sky Theater asked about getting an above-quota liquor license, which can be issued after a municipality has issued its maximum number of Class B liquor licenses. They are limited to venues such as the following, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue:

  • A full-service restaurant with inside seating for 300-plus people;
  • A hotel that has 50-plus rooms and either an attached restaurant with a 150-plus seating capacity or a banquet room with a 400-plus capacity; or
  • A nonprofit opera house or theater.

Northern Sky Theater fits the third description, but Wisconsin state law does not allow municipalities to issue above-quota licenses if they still have available reserve licenses – meaning the town can’t give Northern Sky an above-quota license before the town’s reserve license is issued.

So Thyssen contacted the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to express the town’s intention to issue the reserve license and make sure this wouldn’t be a problem. 

The department responded cautiously, according to Thyssen.

“My interpretation was that they had their own process of muddled affairs,” he said. “In our correspondence, they were reluctant to say yes or no.”

Town attorney Bob Gagen took this ambivalent response as an indication that it was OK to move forward and said the Wisconsin Department of Revenue would be “hard pressed” to turn the situation into a legal issue.

“They had a few questions, but they never said no,” Gagen said. “So our assumption is that the town can do it [issue the reserve license] if the board chooses to.”

During its Feb. 1 meeting, the town board chose to move forward with issuing the reserve license. 

The town needs to determine the value of the reserve license and will do that by checking with nearby municipalities. The issuance fee must be at least $10,000, per state statute, and if it’s higher than that, it must be specified in the liquor-license ordinance.

The town must rewrite its liquor-license ordinance either way to include language for both reserve and above-quota licenses. Once the ordinance is amended, it will be presented during the April 12 board meeting for discussion. 

The town’s intent is to have the reserve license ready for issuance by June, when all of its other liquor licenses are renewed. Once the reserve license is available, the town will post its availability and decide a fair way to issue it. Thyssen expects several businesses to be interested in it.

The decision to issue the reserve license was a long time coming, Sohns said.

“It feels like we shouldn’t let this drag on for longer, knowing what’s all been involved,” he said. 

Related Organizations