To attract more breweries, this Utah city may loosen its liquor restrictions and do away with outdated laws

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ryan Miller is owner of SaltFire Brewing Co., one of only two breweries in South Salt Lake. The city would like to change liquor ordinances to be more business friendly to breweries, wineries and distilleries.

Before his term is over next month, South Salt Lake Councilman Johnny McConnell wants the city to loosen or remove some of its restrictive and what he considers outdated liquor ordinances — a move that could attract more breweries, distilleries and wineries.

McConnell may get his wish. The City Council is expected to change or repeal at least a half-dozen liquor ordinances during its meeting Wednesday.

“We’re looking to up our game,” said McConnell during a recent telephone interview.

Encouraging brewers and other alcohol manufacturers to take over vacant warehouses and old buildings along West Temple near TRAX and the S-Line could jump-start revitalization efforts, he said, attracting other businesses the city would like to have — from restaurants and coffee roasters to art galleries and bike shops.

“It’s always been my push to give South Salt Lake an identity,” he said. “We want to be perceived as a great place to live and work, and if you do live here you don’t have to leave and go to Sugar House or Murray.”

But, first, the city needs to make its ordinances more welcoming. Right now they are “harsh” and “demeaning,” McConnell said during a November council discussion on the issue.

He pointed to this sentence in the city’s code: “The city finds that the sales and consumption of alcohol creates adverse secondary effects, including public drunkenness, increased violence and crime, impaired judgment in social interactions, injury and death to persons and loss of property.”

“It’s negative,” he said. “That’s not where we should be going with our alcohol laws.”

During the discussion, other council members agreed. “We need to do whatever we can to encourage this nascent industry,” said Councilman Mark Kindred.

If the changes are approved, it would be a dramatic turnaround from a decade ago, when South Salt Lake — hoping to rid its reputation as the bar capital of Salt Lake County — implemented several alcohol restrictions. The most dramatic was a cap on the number of clubs allowed within the city limits — one for every 3,000 residents. At that time, the city had 22 bars; today it has eight.

On Wednesday, the City Council is expected to consider these five changes:

Lift the quota on breweries • Currently, there can be only two breweries within the city — one for every 10,000 people. Shades of Pale Brewery received the first license several years ago and SaltFire Brewing Co. was approved earlier this year. That cap, said McConnell, is arbitrary and prevents others from moving into the city.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shades of Pale Brewing Co. owner Trent Fargher is pictured in the South Salt Lake brewery's tap room, repurposed from the previous Hi-Grade meat-packing plant where hot dogs were made. Shades of Pale Brewing Co. is one of only two breweries in South Salt Lake City.

Remove minimum production levels for breweries • Currently the city requires brewers to have a five-barrel minimum (one barrel equals 31 gallons). That can limit smaller brewers just starting out in the business, said McConnell.

Allow bar owners to transfer state liquor licenses to new owners • Bar licenses are not transferable in South Salt Lake, which owners contend is discriminatory, especially since the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control already has strict transfer-of-license rules.

Repeal the work permit requirement • Currently, anyone who sells alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption must obtain a work permit from the city and pay a fee. That provision is outdated, McConnell argues, as the DABC requires servers to take training.

Ease requirements for building exteriors • Currently, buildings where alcohol is sold for consumption must have glass doors and windows as well as outdoor spaces along 30 percent of the side that faces the street. The requirement poses problems for manufacturers who often buy vacant warehouses and old buildings that are difficult to retrofit. The council is expected to pass a list of six upgrades — from new lighting to landscaping — and require businesses to choose at least two that best fit their circumstances.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ryan Miller is owner of SaltFire Brewing Co., soon to open in South Salt Lake.

Ryan Miller, owner of SaltFire Brewing, which will open later this month at 2199 S. West Temple, welcomes the proposed changes, especially those that affect the physical improvement to buildings.

“It’s a big thing,” he said. “The city needs to understand that these are existing buildings that weren’t designed to be storefronts. They’re warehouses and don’t offer a lot of options.”