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City grants previously denied liquor license

After much discussion Tuesday night, Aug. 13, the River Falls City Council granted an application for a reserve liquor license to Hernandez Entertainment LLC for Friends Bar & Grill, 1107 S. Wasson Lane. This reverses the council’s May 28 decision to deny a license to Hernandez Entertainment.

Sonia Hernandez owns the business and Darrell Delahousaye is its agent.

According to Delahousaye, Friends Bar & Grill, located at what used to be PR’s Place, would include a restaurant, bar and banquet area.

The license is a “reserve” because River Falls has reached its quota of 19 licenses. According to deputy clerk Bridget Hieb, once the regular licenses have been issued, the city has five "reserve" licenses it can grant, for a fee of up to $10,000, paid by the applicant. The city's license quotas are set by population.

The council gave these reasons for the May denial: Enough liquor licenses in the city already and the location is primarily residential.

On Tuesday, council members further explained their concerns stemmed from worries about Hernandez’s ability to restrict drinking to the establishment’s premises.

The application outlined areas to be licensed to include the building, which would include a sit-down bar and grill as well as banquet hall with an attached bar, a patio attached to the building and a baseball field also on the property.

“I could see a lot of people wandering over there,” said Council Member Christopher Gagne. “Sometimes people can get a little unruly and it’s hard for staff to take care of that, especially considering how people get when they’re intoxicated.”

Gagne moved to amend the application to license only the building and the patio, provided fencing or a barrier structure is put in place so the patio can only be reached from inside the building. The council approved this amendment, approved the reserve liquor license.

Council Members Diane Odeen and Scott Morrissette dissented. Odeen stood by her opinion from May, saying River Falls has enough bars. She and Morrisette also expressed concern about Hernandez’s lack of experience running a bar.

“I don’t have a problem licensing the facility,” Morrissette said. “My concern is, frankly, over the applicant and her lack of bar ownership and or bar management.”

After the council approved license, Mayor Dan Toland told Hernandez and Delahousaye it was up to them to prove the faith of the council members who voted in favor of the application was justified.

 “I expect you to prove them right,” Toland said.

The council also held a first reading of a proposed amendment to the River Falls City Code regarding delinquent city service accounts, such as unpaid utilities.

One option for the proposed amendment could eliminate a public hearing held before adding unpaid feeds and a 10% penalty as a tax against the property owner. Another option would keep the public hearing.

No decision or discussion was held, though the city did hear comments from one concerned citizen.

City Administrator Scot Simpson said the council will schedule a public hearing and discuss the proposed amendment at a later meeting. Simpson said the Wisconsin PSC (Public Service Commission) encouraged River Falls to eliminate the public hearing.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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