Bill would award Idaho resort towns more liquor licenses

The Idaho House of Representatives is considering a bill that would grant four new liquor licenses to businesses in resort communities, potentially including Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, was passed last weekby the House State Affairs Committee and will be considered by the full House.

The licenses would come from 12 unused licenses authorized by state law for the Tamarack Resort in Donnelly in 2008. Since then, business at the resort has stagnated.

Miller said the redistribution would help Idaho’s resort communities diversify their hospitality offerings, as state liquor laws largely prohibit new applications in these locations.

Miller told the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum that he wrote the bill after being approached with the idea by Ketchum and Sun Valley residents. He said he specifically had the cities of Ketchum and Driggs in mind. He said his goal is to make liquor licenses less of a commodity.

“There’s got to be a better way of taking care of business than the way it is now,” he said.

The Idaho Constitution touts temperance and sobriety as essential virtues of its citizens. Accordingly, municipalities are granted one liquor license per 1,500 residents, based on a 1947 law. There are 10 liquor licenses allotted to Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey combined, based on the cities’ populations. Ketchum and Sun Valley each were granted two, while Hailey, with over 8,000 residents, was granted six.

However, according to the Idaho Alcohol Beverage Control Bureau website, Sun Valley has five active liquor licenses and Ketchum has 13. That’s because it’s legal for liquor license holders to resell the coveted licenses for whatever price they can get. A spokeswoman for the bureau said more than a dozen applicants have paid to be on the state waiting list for new liquor licenses for the three Wood River Valley cities. The number changes daily, she said, but as of last week there were nine applications on file for Ketchum, three for Sun Valley and five for Hailey.

To be on the wait list, applicants must pay a one-time fee equal to half the annual license fee specific to that city as set by state law. Sun Valley applicants pay $150, Ketchum applicants pay $250 and Hailey applicants pay $375, the spokeswoman said. Sometimes people stay on the wait list for years, she said. Once an opening comes up, the fee they paid goes toward the cost of the license.

Sun Valley Economic Development Director Harry Griffith said more liquor licenses up for grabs in the valley could benefit both the local and state economies.

“In a community where roughly 60 percent of our economy is directly or indirectly related to tourism, lack of liquor licenses could be a significant constraint to profitability,” he said.

According to Miller’s House Bill 215, the licenses would be granted to a business located within a city with a year-round resort. There are restrictions on what constitutes a “resort town” and what types of businesses would be eligible. The application must be from a year-round recreation-based resort, a conference center within a resort town or a resort-town restaurant that gains at least 60 percent of its income from food and doesn’t serve liquor after 10 p.m. The license would be non-transferable.