Proposal to allow alcohol sales at fair still on tap

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Following heavy debate, the sale of alcohol at the Indiana State Fair continues to be a possibility.

People on both sides of the issue, including those on the State Fair Commission, Indiana alcohol producers, and those opposed to the change, discussed a tentative plan Wednesday on how the State Fair would sell its first alcoholic beverages since the 1940s. Indiana is one of only two states that prohibits alcohol sales at its state fair.

Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, the bill's author, said he intentionally gave the State Fair Commission complete control in developing a plan that would suit both sides.

“(This change) may be controversial,” Merritt said. “There are no instructions for the State Fair Commission because I trust them to create a plan that is very tight, regulated, and one that will promote Indiana products. There is a good plan being crafted there.”

Cindy Hoye, executive director of the State Fair Commission, told the committee the fair would follow the “Disney Model.” She said this model creates “a very safe environment and doesn’t shout ‘come have alcohol.’”

The intention of the commission, Hoye said, is to have an Indiana wine and beer exhibition. Fairgoers would be able to sample and drink the beverages. They would also be able to see how the Indiana microbrewery and winery industry affects the state’s economy.

“It would be a very transparent plan,” Hoye said. “We are not locked into anything presented. We need to flush out the right plan.”

Senate Public Policy Committee Chairman, Ron Alting, said he supports the addition of alcoholic beverages at the fair, but expressed his concern about craft brew’s alcohol content.

Alting said the average microbeer has twice the alcohol than a typical beer and he believes this fact should be something the commission considers when making its final plan. He warned the commission if they did not consider the alcohol content of the beverages being sold, there could be a lot of drunken people at the fair. This would have an effect on the desired “family-friendly environment” many fairgoers appreciate.

Clay Robinson, an owner of one of Indiana’s largest microbreweries, Sun King, and president of the Indiana Brewers Guild, addressed Alting’s concern and said regulating what beers could be sold should not be a problem.

“You can completely monitor (the sales) so that you’re not selling beers that are 8- or 9-percent [alcohol],” Robinson said. “You can make sure you don’t over-serve people. I’m looking at (this as) more of an opportunity to display products and a way for people to sample beers. You’re going to move a lot of people in and out, so limits are a great idea.”

While those in favor of the bill say alcohol sales can be controlled and will not negatively affect the fair environment, those opposed, including the not-for-profit Drug Free Marion County worry about a “slippery slope” and the message the community receives if alcohol is allowed at the fair.

Randy Miller, executive director of Drug Free Marion County, said there are consequences that come with serving alcohol.

“Other state fairs that sell alcohol have reported issues of DUIs, public intoxication and disorderly conduct,” Miller said. “Ten percent of the alcohol sales at the Texas State Fair are to underaged customers.”

Mark Webb, a representative for the Indiana Brewer’s Guild, said Indiana microbrewers just want an opportunity to showcase their products.

“It’s a great opportunity for Indiana products to be showcased in an event attended by more than 1 million people annually,” Webb said. “This would result in increased attendance at the fair. People will stay longer and spend more money. It’s a win-win situation.”

The bill awaits further discussion in the Senate.

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