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Liquor application clears for Santa Fe theater

Construction equipment sits on the site of the planned Violet Crown Theater at Santa Fe's Railyard. (Albuquerque Journal File)

Construction equipment sits on the site of the planned Violet Crown Theater at Santa Fe’s Railyard. (Albuquerque Journal File)

SANTA FE – A beer-and-wine application submitted by Violet Crown Cinema, operators of a long-awaited and soon-to-be-built movie theater in the Santa Fe Railyard, barely squeaked through with the City Council’s approval earlier this month.

Opposing councilors said they feared Violet Crown’s plan to allow patrons to bring both food and drinks into the cinema’s auditoriums could provide an opportunity for minors to consume alcohol.

“The applicant may need beer and wine to make a profit, but I don’t think it’s necessary to have a good movie experience,” Councilor Chris Rivera declared. “Our children are too important,”

In a vote split along the city’s geographic lines, the council deadlocked 4-4 on Violet Crown’s request for the license. Councilors Patti Bushee, Peter Ives, Rebecca Wurzburger and Chris Calvert – who represent Santa Fe’s northerly Districts 1 and 2 – endorsed the liquor license application.

Rivera and Councilors Ron Trujillo, Bill Dimas and Carmichael Dominguez, the city’s Districts 3 and 4 representatives, voted against it.

Mayor David Coss broke the tie in favor of the license.

“I look forward to seeing a movie at your theater and maybe having a glass of wine with my dinner,” Coss told Violet Crown owner Bill Banowsky.

The crowd at City Hall offered some applause after the vote and, for one of the few such hearings, cheered City Hall’s issuance of the license.

Violet Crown sought a beer and wine license for a restaurant planned in the theater site. Violet Crown also needed the council to grant a special waiver allowing the cinema to sell alcohol because the premises are within 300 feet of Tierra Encantada Charter School.

The Santa Fe Railyard master plan calls for a movie theater, but getting the project off the ground has proven difficult. Another company was chosen in 2006 to build a theater, but plans fell through due to lack of financing. A gaping hole, excavated for that theater, has sat for years at the proposed theater location next to the Market Station commercial complex in the city-owned Santa Fe Railyard.

Santa Fe Railyard Community Corp., which manages the Railyard, chose Violet Crown over three competitors earlier this year to finally move forward with a new project. Officials say the new theater could be open around the end of 2014.

“I want to remind the council that we mandated the movie theater be here, and I am anxious to get that hole in the ground filled,” Bushee said.

That argument apparently didn’t move everyone. The first indication of resistance came when Trujillo, after Calvert moved to approve Violet Crown’s request, asked if the liquor license was a “do or break thing” for Violet Crown.

The answer was yes.

“We have sought a beer and wine license that is critical to the economic model of building what is not an inexpensive project. To be competitive as a restaurant, we can’t move forward without a beer and wine license,” Banowsky said.

Banowsky added that during the cinema bidding process, the SFRCC required that a restaurant be part of all project proposals. SFRCC Director Richard Czoski added that SFRCC’s agreement with Violet Crown would allow the company to terminate its lease if the council didn’t approve the liquor license request.

Violet Crown’s business model will allow patrons to take food and drink ordered at the restaurant into auditoriums where movies are screened. People won’t be served inside the theaters.

Banowsky said he’s discussed the plan with state of New Mexico officials and received a policy exception to allow drinks to be brought into the theaters.

“Across the county it’s becoming more the norm that beer and wine is an amenity to the cinema experience and important to make cinema operations economical,” Banowsky said.