After Hours Alliance

Strengthening nightlife through the arts


Update on The Nightlife Lobby


Posted By on Mar 12, 2014

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Wanted to provide a quick update on some really exciting progress on efforts to make Santa Fe more hospitable to nightlife.

First, coming out of the BQL meeting in November, city councilor Rebecca Wurzburger pulled together representatives of various organizations that have spoken out on this issue. She asked us for a list of ideas that eventually got turned into a resolution, which you can view here. The resolution passed in February, and so now the city’s Economic Development Division is working on creating an official task force that will spend time researching the issues and make recommendations sometime later this year. The resolution also authorized EDD to give a little bit of funding (not to exceed $5,000 total) to some small pilot projects proposed by the community. I’ll post something here when a proposal process for that funding is announced.

Second, something exciting is happening at the state level. As anyone that’s ever dreamed of starting a music venue knows, one of the single largest factors suppressing Santa Fe’s nighttime economy is not a city issue but a state issue–New Mexico’s liquor laws. In New Mexico, there is a finite number (1411, to be exact) of liquor licenses under what’s referred to as “the quota system.” While in neighboring Colorado you can get a license to open a full bar for just $2,500, in New Mexico you have to buy one from an existing license holder, which has driven up the price from anywhere between $300,000 – $1 million. Renting a liquor license is possible, but it costs a business between $3200 and $3800 a month. 

As various groups of people lay out the issues facing nightlife in Santa Fe, this is always the ugliest elephant in the room–an issue that is obviously at the root of many problems, but one that we have no real way to work on at the city level.

While the city task force will not be addressing this law, I’m excited to announce that–independently of our efforts–a state task force has been created to specifically address the quota system. It seems that the liquor license quota system is increasingly being seen as anti-business and treated as a bipartisan economic development issue. (Furthermore, it impacts people all over the state–you can read here about the toll it’s taking on some smaller towns in New Mexico.)

Undoing the quota system is a real logic puzzle. Because each of the 1411 current license holders spent so much money to obtain their licenses, any plan to remove the quota limit has include a way to not screw these people over by devaluing their biggest asset (which many of them financed through bank loans that they are still making payments on). But pulling together knowledgeable minds is the first step. The task force has already begun meeting and includes representatives from all over the state, including Santa Fe. They are aiming for recommendations to be delivered in time to influence the 2015 legislative session.

I will continue giving updates about both the city and state-level task forces here on the blog.

 Photo by Jen Consalvo.

3 Comments

  1. It’s good to hear that this issue is being talked about. It always seems to be monumental, but I don’t see why it can’t be changed.

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  2. I have lived in the northern New Mexico for the better part of 20 years working in the hospitality industry. I recently booked all the music for a local microbrewery. First off two solutions. One…let folks get a beer/wine/cider license without having to serve food! Most folks would love just to have those options while listening to some tunes. And your not a huge threat to existing full liquor license owners. Second…allow folks to serve liquor/wine/beer/cider without a current liquor license and food but only if the alcohol is made in state! Local bars and clubs as well as local producers win with that option as well. Theres plenty of great NM made options regarding liquor, wine, cider and beer. Until then its old school politics as usual here.

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    • Those are great ideas, mjj21. I know that the local organization MIX Santa Fe is preparing a policy paper on the liquor license issue and that de-coupling the beer/wine license from food service requirements is one of their recommendations. I’ll post a link to the paper when it becomes available! And I like your idea about incentivizing local options!

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