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City Council saves Privateers season with new concessions agreement

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The Watertown City Council saved the Thousand Islands Privateers’ remaining season Monday night by allowing a Watertown catering company to take over the city-operated concession stand during the final 11 games of the season.

Savory Beverages & Beyond will pay the city $300 per game to operate the concession stand at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, where the Federal Hockey League team plays its games in the municipal ice rink. The catering company is a third-party vendor for the Privateers as a “sub-franchisee” and holds the state license to sell beer and wine during the hockey games.

Before the vote, council members expressed frustration at having to give up the concession stand because the city was making a $527 per game profit this season. But they had to make the change after the state Liquor Authority ruled recently that Savory could not sell alcohol if the city ran the concession stand.

The city was left scrambling to find a solution with what they had called a “confusing” ruling by the Liquor Authority, especially since it has operated the concession stand during other events at the arena this year.

“I just think having to deal with vagueness and nuances, it ends up costing us money,” Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said.

He added that the issue will not only cause the city to lose about $2,500 in profit from the concession stand; it also has to pay hourly fees to a consultant and lawyers who worked on the issue for the city.

The city will continue to run the concession stand during non-Privateer events. The Liquor Authority gave the city until Friday to make the change with the concession stand, or beer and alcohol would not have been allowed to be sold at the Privateer games.

On Monday night, council members held off approving next season’s franchise agreement with the Privateers until city staff completes the final document and then gives the Liquor Authority time enough to look at it, so other issues could be avoided, City Manager Sharon A. Addison said after the meeting.

The City Council is now expected to act on the new franchise with the hockey team at next Monday’s meeting. Last week, council members approved — without any issues — new lease agreements with the Watertown Rams collegiate baseball team and the Red and Black semi-pro football team.

After the meeting, Privateers owner Nicole J. Kirnan said she was “very relieved” that the issue was resolved with the alcohol sales and the concession stand.

“I’m excited to move on from here,” she said.

The Liquor Authority notified the city late on Jan. 18 that Savory must run the city’s concession stand if it sells beer and wine at the games. The issue caused council members to delay voting last week on a new franchise agreement.

William Crowley, the Liquor Authority’s director of public and legislative affairs, said in an email Friday that the agency was working with the city and Savory on the issue, but he did not explain why it took the stance about Savory’s involvement in selling alcohol.

Two years ago, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department took over the concession stand and upgraded it. Until this hockey season, the city lost money on the venture.

Before Monday night’s vote on the concession stand, Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith wanted to know whether the concession stand was making money this season, but Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner said she did not have access to that information at the meeting. Mr. Smith then asked if he could obtain that information in the future.

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