MICHIGAN CITY - Michigan City is expanding its free liquor license program to spur further economic growth on the north end of the city.
The vote by the city council Tuesday night was 5-4 before a standing-room only crowd overwhelmingly in favor of the move based on a show of hands and loud applause.
For several years, free liquor licenses have been offered strictly along the Trail Creek corridor from the lakefront to 8th Street to try and bring about a boardwalk type concept featuring retail establishments, including those serving alcohol.
The idea behind offering free liquor licenses three blocks further to the south and to the west throughout the downtown area is to provide an area for the development idea.
City councilman Tim Bietry called the liquor license expansion the most important step so far in the redevelopment of the north end with Michigan City now positioned to become a prime destination area.
City council president Chris Schwanke said he likes the present zone because it's consistent with strategies being followed of using the lakefront to revitalize the north end.
He's afraid the expansion will create alcohol serving establisments like restaurants too close to existing bars and restaurants that could be hurt by such competition after paying as much as $100,000 for more their liquor licenses.
''I don't think that's fair,'' Schwanke said.
Johnny Stimley, owner of Ryan's Irish Pub, and Larry Fegaras, owner of Galveston Steakhouse were among the proprietors speaking out against the move.
Fegaras said he paid $80,000 for his liquor license and his brother just recently purchased one for $50,000.
If a new owner really wants to succeed, Fegaras suggested a fee of $20,000 at the very least.
Bietry and other supporters said more restaurants serving alcohol will mean more people after eating wanting to go to the bars so there should be more business for everyone.
Aaron O'Riley, owner of Fiddlehead, a restaurant in the downtown citing the success of the free liquor license program in other communities for urging for its passage.
''It makes us all better,'' he said.