E.L.’s 50/50 ordinance considered obsolete


Every Thursday afternoon, lines of students extend out the doors of The Riv in downtown East Lansing for Burgerama, an event featuring discount food and beer prices.

Although the paint on the windows advertises food discounts, landscape architecture senior Simon Baginski said the focus is on the pitchers of beer.

“I’ve been to ‘Rama quite a few times over the years, but not a lot of people eat (there),” Baginski said. “I’d say the focus is on the drinks.”

Bars such as The Riv, 231 M.A.C Ave., are required by city code to have at least half their revenue come from food sales — a practice that has become obsolete, according to several business owners and city officials.

On Tuesday, the East Lansing City Council is expected to vote on a one-year suspension of the requirement.

“There’s a concern that the reporting requirements related to (the) 50/50 ratio is not necessarily effective in achieving goals it was meant to achieve,” Economic Development Administrator Lori Mullins said.

When the rule was enacted in 1989, Mullins said one of the primary goals was to help keep irresponsible drinking to a minimum.

But according to Seth Tompkins, a liquor license attorney and owner of What Up Dawg?, 317 M.A.C. Ave., little has changed since the rule was put into effect.

“Have you ever been in downtown East Lansing on a Saturday night?” said Tompkins, who also is an MSU alumnus. “It’s just as nuts now as it was in 1992 … We had a huge traditional party school right across the street … and (the city) probably felt the added regulation was necessary in order to promote more responsible behavior between restaurants and patrons.”

Mullins said although some businesses are more willing to comply with the rule than others, those who don’t comply aren’t likely to have a follow-up audit because of costs on the city’s behalf.

Businesses operating before the city’s code changed in 1989 are exempt from the quarterly reporting requirements.

Joe Bell, owner of The Peanut Barrel Restaurant, 521 E. Grand River Ave., — a business that doesn’t have to report — said the rule can also deter businesses from making improvements for fear of having to change its rules.

“It’s a catch-22. You’re expanding to sell more food, but if you didn’t, then you’re stuck. It keeps people from expanding their business,” Bell said.

Tompkins said he thinks the rule has prevented a variety of businesses from opening — such as a theater that serves alcohol — since alcohol can only be served in a restaurant setting.

“People aren’t going to Burgerama because of the dollar burgers, people don’t go to the Landshark at night to eat their pizza,” Tompkins said. “Let them be bars — they’re good bars. Let them drop the charade … If (the rule) isn’t enforceable, why have it?”

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