Frank Bishop, developer of Epps Bridge Centre, used his keynote speech before the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce tonight to call for a county referendum to approve the sale of liquor by the drink in restaurants.
He then said the county should approve the sale of alcoholic beverages in restaurants because that “would be beneficial to the long-term health” of his shopping center and “for all of the shopping opportunities there.”
The county would gain, he said, from the tax revenue his shopping mall will generate.
Real Target: Commissioners
The liquor referendum is not on the ballot and is likely to be put there only if the Oconee County Board of Commissioners approve, so the real target of Bishop’s call was those five commissioners, at least four of whom were in the audience.
BOC Chairman Melvin Davis and Commissioners John Daniell, Jim Luke and Mark Saxon were seated off to Bishop’s left as he spoke.
Bishop said that Commissioner Margaret Hale was not in attendance, though Master of Ceremonies Tammy Gilland had earlier said she was. I did not see Hale and could not reach her tonight to confirm that she was not in the audience.
(Hale called me a little before 9 a.m. on Jan. 24 and told me that she and her husband had planned to attend but could not at the last moment because she had had a recurrence of the flu.)
Bishop’s call tonight for the referendum was the first time anyone has come forward publicly asking that the issue be put before the voters again.
Last Defeated In 2002
Oconee County voters turned down liquor by the drink most recently in 2002. It had been rejected by voters twice before.
The Commissioners approved package sales of beer and wine in 1978 and the sale of beer and wine in restaurants, in a split vote, in 2008.
Only voters can approve sale of liquor.
A survey conducted by my students last October suggested that opposition to the sale of alcoholic beverages in the county is weakening.
The county now has restaurants spread along major commercial strips that sell beer and wine, and the theater in Epps Bridge Centre has a beer and wine permit.
A new restaurant planned for the shopping center was granted a beer and wine permit by the Board of Commissioners earlier this year.
Core Nearing Completion
Bishop told those attending the Chamber of Commerce Members Banquet and Annual Meeting at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road that the core of the shopping center is nearing completion, but he has had little success with the 12 out lots.
Early planning documents said many of those would be filled by restaurants.
A part of the audience, which filled the Civic Center’s main hall to capacity, applauded briefly as Bishop made his call for change in the county’s liquor laws, as the video above indicates. I shot that video from my table at the very rear of the room.
Bishop spoke for more than 25 minutes, with his initial comments focused on the history of the project.
Praise For BOC
Bishop praised the member of the Board of Commissioners and other county officials for their support of the project.
“Without their efforts, this project would be only a vision, not reality,” he said.
He also thanked the state for building the roadway that leads to the project, in the triangle formed by SR Loop 10, the Oconee Connector and Epps Bridge Parkway.
He said the process of gaining a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers to pipe the stream running through the property and fill wetlands had been complicated.
Bishop ended the talk with a detailed “personal story” about the reasons he had chosen certain varieties of trees as part of the landscaping for the shopping center.