Applebee's plan prompts liquor sales debate in Port Lavaca

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

June 16, 2013 at 1:16 a.m.
Updated June 17, 2013 at 1:17 a.m.

PORT LAVACA - The future of an Applebee's restaurant remains uncertain as residents debate extending the hours liquor may be sold.

"We're in limbo," said Port Lavaca City Manager Bob Turner. "Applebee's is waiting to see what happens with the late-night drinking ordinance."

The ordinance, which went into effect April 25, extends the hour that businesses can sell alcohol from midnight to 2 a.m. Applebee's officials have said they will open a restaurant at state Highway 35 and Virginia Street only if the hours are extended.

Walter Spiller, a retired resident of Port Lavaca, says he does not believe extending the sale of alcohol by two hours makes much difference.

"I'd love to see Applebee's come to town," Spiller said. "We need the business."

Lisa Rodgers, an area banker, is against the ordinance. She wants Applebee's to come to Port Lavaca for the food but objects to the club atmosphere it would become after the restaurant closes at 10 p.m.

"We don't need another club," she said. "And if Applebee's does come, it can stick to midnight."

The longer the bars are open, the more people can drink, the more danger there is on the road and the more crime increases, Rodgers said.

She also believes that the economic development argument is based on unsound reasoning.

"We shouldn't have to change the drinking laws to get businesses and to grow the community," Rodgers said. "If Applebee's doesn't come, we're not going to dry up and stop being a town."

Kevin LeVrier, pastor of Freedom House Assembly of God, opposes the ordinance and has a petition underway to stop it.

The petition requires 200 signatures of registered voters in Port Lavaca.

"We're over halfway there," LeVrier said. "And I don't foresee a problem reaching the goal by July 8."

If the signatures are collected and verified, the city will suspend the ordinance until residents can vote on the issue in a citywide election in November.

Residents already can drink from 7 a.m. to midnight, Turner said, and an additional two hours is not going to cause more trouble than the first 17 hours.

"If it's about alcohol, let's talk about suspending all of it - don't sell it in Wal-Mart or H-E-B," Turner said. "Let's make it a dry/wet argument if it's about alcohol."

But the argument is not about alcohol, Turner said. It is about economic development.

Applebee's would bring 50 to 60 jobs to Port Lavaca and increase the tax base by nearly $1 million, he said. The city has not seen a major restaurant chain of this type in recent memory.

The main reason for LeVrier's opposition to the ordinance is alcohol abuse.

"But, also, it was the way it was handled," LeVrier said. "Applebee's bought the property, and the deal was done before the ordinance was in place."

City Council approved the ordinance in May with a 4-2 vote. Applebee's, which had planned to break ground in June and open in September, put the project on hold pending the outcome of the ordinance.

"They put the cart before the horse," LeVrier said. "We should be able to vote on matters that impact the city, not have a six-man council making all the decisions."



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