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Confehr: Private restaurant at park will raise questions

Friday, February 19, 2010

Closure of the Henry Horton State Park restaurant has emerged as one way to cut state spending to bring it in line with revenues. Leasing the facility to a business is an option to keep it open. Expect a debate on whether beer, wine and cocktails may be served there, especially if privatization gets more than lip service.

Where might you go and not have the opportunity to buy a beverage with some level of alcohol content? Of those businesses, how many could respond to a bid call for management of the park restaurant?

There may be several, but if Tennessee wants a business to convert the restaurant into something like the sit-down restaurants local leaders want in Lewisburg - O'Charley's, Ruby Tuesday, TGI Fridays, Legends and the like - then the possibility of alcoholic beverage service ought to be included in the bid call.

It's a debate in towns nationally where the question was should liquor by the drink be permitted here? That bridge was crossed in Tullahoma in the 1980s. Murfreesboro voters permitted it several years earlier. A referendum on liquor by the drink in Lewisburg passed in November 2000.

State parks are different, or are they? Beer is sold at the state park's golf course because of a decision by the Marshall County Beer Board last year.

Chapel Hill's town board voted to allow beer service at restaurants in town. Several permits have been issued.

Beer is different from wine and mixed drinks, and the beverage debate has political, religious and financial issues, beyond legislative and biochemical aspects to consider.

State Rep. Eddie Bass does not personally like the idea of alcoholic beverages being served at the facility, but he would vote in accordance with his constituency.

Preachers and parishioners went to a county Beer Board meeting several months ago, opposed permitting beer service but the board granted it because if an applicant meets requirements, then the permit must be issued.

At the park restaurant one week ago, the Rev. Fred Massey of the Murfreesboro Community Church said private enterprise could run the facility and change some things, but there are too many regulations and business is competitive, so if a restaurant is to be run by private interests, all avenues must be available.

Arthur Lewis, pastor of the same church says successful and creative people benefit the community. Lewis was raised in a dry Kentucky county and families seemed to do very well there where there are benefits of not drinking spirits.

Franklin Alderman Clyde Barnhill ate at the restaurant that night and said the vast majority of sit-down restaurants in Franklin serve alcoholic beverages. The idea of such at the part restaurant ought to be examined. It wouldn't stop him from going to the park restaurant, but controls are needed at businesses catering to children.

So, those are some of the debate points. If the restaurant's operation is to be up for bids, specifications should include all arrangements with alternatives for management with and without the sale of alcoholic beverages.

And even though it might not be possible, it would be nice for the restaurant to showcase Tennessee brewed beers, fermented wines and distilled spirits - some of which have worldwide reputations.