It could cost the state nearly $11 million to move downtown Salt Lake City’s small, aging — and controversial — liquor store from its current location near Pioneer Park to a more suitable spot, officials from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said Thursday.
Built in 1982, the downtown store at 205 W. 400 South “shows the wear and tear of being there for 37 years,” DABC Executive Director Sal Petilos told members of an appropriations subcommittee. The site suffers from a lack of parking, limited selection and “does not offer the most welcoming atmosphere for customers,” many of whom are tourists staying in downtown hotels.
The store’s proximity to Pioneer Park, he said, also “has made us a lightning rod of criticism."
In 2017, then-Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams asked the DABC to relocate the liquor store to help reduce criminal activity among the homeless in the area.
The environment around the store has affected sales. Petilos told lawmakers that revenue there peaked in 2016 at $13.4 million. Since then, he said, sales have dropped each year — to $13.2 million in 2017 and $12.8 million in 2018.
While a specific downtown site has not been selected, building or leasing space in the central downtown business district would be costly because of skyrocketing land prices. It also would take time. New liquor stores usually take about two years to build.
Proximity issues also would come into play when selecting a downtown spot. Under state law, liquor stores cannot be within 600 feet of a church, school, park or library, and cities can’t grant exceptions.
However, once completed, Petilos said, a new store "would put the state and the department in a good light when [customers] come stop at the store.”
Despite annual sales of more than $453 million, the DABC is required to get approval from the Legislature before building new stores. On Thursday, Petilos asked the committee to approve $10.9 million for construction of the downtown store and another $29,000 for maintenance and operation.
It’s just one of two Salt Lake City liquor stores the DABC plans to replace, said DABC spokesman Terry Wood.
The 37-year-old store at 1615 Foothill Drive also will be rebuilt as part of a redevelopment project. The master plan is to tear down the building in the Lamplighter Square Shopping Center as well as adjacent office buildings, apartments and the former Skyline Inn. The shopping center would be replaced with a new one, where the liquor store would be the anchor tenant.
Wood said the new Foothill Drive store will triple in size to nearly 12,000 square feet. Completion of that store depends on when the developer begins work.
He said the DABC also is in various construction or planning phases for four more stores:
Syracuse — Construction is almost complete at this new store at 865 W. Antelope Drive, with a tentative opening in early March.
Herriman — A liquor store is under construction in a development area at 11800 South and Mountain View Corridor. Tentative opening is summer 2019.
Central Davis County — The agency is searching for land in the Farmington-Kaysville-Layton area to build a store.
Utah County — The DABC also is looking for land in the Saratoga Springs area for a store.
Liquor store construction and replacement are moving at a faster pace in recent years. When Utah opened its 45th liquor store in West Valley City in 2017, it was the state’s first new retail outlet in seven years.
Even with the new stores, the state needs at least 12 more in targeted areas — specifically along the Wasatch Front — to keep up with liquor sales and a growing population, according to a 2016 study conducted by Zions Public Finance, a division of Zions Bank.
Utah’s population of 3.1 million is expected to jump to 3.9 million by 2030 and 4.5 million by 2040, the study shows.
The state could have as many as 63 liquor stores under a legislative formula allowing for one liquor store for every 48,000 residents.