by Nat Frothingham
MONTPELIER — At its March 22 meeting, City Council voted unanimously to allow beer sales beginning this summer — under carefully managed conditions — at Vermont Mountaineers baseball games at the Montpelier Recreation Field on Elm Street.
Community sentiment appears to strongly favor beer sales at the Mountaineers games. But some people are raising questions and others disapprove.
Brian Gallagher, Mountaineers president and general manager, with additional Mountaineers board members in attendance, made the beer sales proposal to the city council. Gallagher noted that this summer will mark the 15th season of Mountaineers games.
Gallagher described precautions the Mountaineers organization taking to clearly separate beer sales to adults from the grandstand crowd of families, children and adults watching the play-by-play action on the field.
The centerpiece of Gallagher’s beer sales precautions involves building an enclosed beer garden far away from the grandstand and home plate down the left-field line. The beer garden will be enclosed with a four-foot high (70 by 30-foot) chain-link fence. And the Mountaineers have secured the services of Scott Kerner, owner of Montpelier’s Three Penny Taproom. Kerner, along with State Liquor Control personnel, will be at the gate checking IDs, admitting people and making sure that beer drinking is confined to the beer garden. Gallagher said the drinks on sale will be exclusively Vermont beers and Vermont hard cider.
“You can’t bring beer outside the beer garden. You can’t take beer back to the grandstand,” he said in a phone call with The Bridge. He told the Council that no beer would be sold after the seventh inning and that no beer advertising will be allowed at the Rec Field. A couple of other precautions will include a public address system announcement toward the end of the game about safe driving and the posting of a taxi service phone number so that anyone attending the game that wants to call a cab, can call a cab.
The big factor pushing the Mountaineers Board to vote for beer sales was not money, Gallagher said. “We’ve put $600,000 into (the Rec Field) facility,” Gallagher said about financial contributions made by the Mountaineers since they started out at the Rec Field in May 2003. Gallagher estimated about $5,000 for the cost of putting in the beer garden to pay for fencing, a stay-mat floor surface, gates, tables, chairs and the like. And all the beer is to be packed up and taken off the site at the end of each game.
Creating the beer garden is only one of the improvements set to be put in place this year. Other improvements include: new netting and a new sound system. “We have money in a rainy day fund,” said Gallagher about the money management of the Mountaineers organization.
“I think it’s going to be a very positive experience,” he said about the beer garden. “You’re talking 350 feet away from the grandstand.” And it will be run by Three Penny. Gallagher noted that the majority of teams in the New England Collegiate Baseball League — 13 teams in all including the Mountaineers — are now selling beer.
“Everything will be the same — the grandstand, what’s happening in the field.”
It’s true there was a unanimous vote at the March 22 City Council meeting to approve beer sales, yet there were signs of caution as well.
Newly elected City Councilor Ashley Hill, who is deputy state’s attorney in Addison County and an adjunct professor in criminal justice at Community College of Vermont was somewhat cautious about the beer sales proposal in her initial reaction to the idea. She said, “I’m a prosecutor by day.” Then she said, “DUI is a big concern.”
Ann Gilbert, director of Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in Barre, an organization that works with youth and young adults to make healthy choices and avoid substance abuse, said that she was late in getting informed about the Mountaineers beer sales proposal.
“We found out about it and it was a surprise. As soon as I heard about it, I jumped on it,” she said.
On March 22, the day of the Mountaineers proposal to the Council, Gilbert wrote to city councilor Dona Bate on behalf of the New Directions Coalition. She was representing some concerned parents in the community — people who were considering healthy community design goals.
“We really want to find a way to promote local business but restrict alcohol sales at family-friendly events.” She noted past problems at the Heritage Festival in Barre and a Fourth of July Parade in Warren. Gilbert said her question was this, “Do we need to have alcohol visible and normalized in settings that involve a lot of our youth?”
At the same time, she noted that under the approved proposal beer sales would only take place in a restricted area away from the grandstand. She also noted affirmatively that beer sales would be carefully supervised by trained volunteers who would not serve to minors.
“I will say this,” she said. “I have been in contact with Brian Gallagher and the Central Vermont Coalition values its relationship with the Mountaineers. He’s shared the plans. It sounds like safety measures have been built (into the plan) to make this successful. And so I see it as a trial run.”
Then she offered a question and a concern. This was her question, “Is this going to help Montpelier by increasing attendance at the ball games?” Then this concern, “There are a lot of parents who feel this is a safe place for kids to go to be there with their friends. I worry about intoxication.”
“We have a concern about underage drinking and binge drinking.” She said that drinking establishments say they will not over-serve because they have a reputation to protect.” Then she added, “The more it is visible, the more it is normalized, the more youth thinks it is safe and acceptable.”
Of all the people who talked about the Mountaineers beer sales proposal, it was Eddie Walbridge, first president of the Mountaineers board, who disapproved the most vehemently.
“Why put it in front of kids?” Walbridge asked. “It’s right in their face.”
Walbridge said that this was not the first time that beer sales at the games had been proposed. “It’s been proposed three or four times. It’s about making money,” he said flatly.
Walbridge drew a distinction between his point of view and simple opposition. “I don’t oppose,” he said. “I think it’s morally wrong. It’s morally wrong because we are trying to save our children — to keep our kids away from alcohol. If they put that in there — in five years, it won’t be a kid place. The alcohol will get bigger.”