On Tuesday, Feb. 21 after a lengthy discussion, the Fenton Township Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to approve a tavern license with Sunday sales to Tri-County Ninja & Collectibles.
Trustees Robert Kesler, Mark Goupil, Christine Reid and Kade Katrak voted yes. Supervisor Vince Lorraine and Clerk Robert Krug voted no. Treasurer John Tucker was absent.
Multiple township officials favored saving the township’s quota liquor licenses for businesses on the Thompson Road Corridor.
Ed McNulty, owner of Tri-County Ninja & Collectibles at 14283 Fenton Road, said they offer ninja warrior training for kids and adults, which is similar to obstacle course training. They do family classes. They also have a collectible store that sells Pokemon cards, board games, trading cards and more. Tri-County Ninja also offers scholarships to help people afford classes. The company also hosts adaptive ninja, which is for people with special needs.
They opened Tri-County Ninja in 2018. McNulty is a recently retired police officer after working 16 years in Oakland County.
McNulty said they offer an alternative means of physical activity, as well as gaming opportunities that can no longer be found in the area.
“We’re the number one searched and booked birthday party destination in Genesee County. We bring a lot of people from all sorts of zip codes into town,” he said.
McNulty said they could acquire the 8,000-foot Sear’s Hometown Store space, which is a part of the same building. With that space, they plan to add bowling, corn hole, shuffleboard tables, bounce houses, and other rotating games. Plans also include installing a bar and retro arcade.
McNulty said even though a tavern license allows beer, wine and mixed drinks, they’re not planning on having full bar service. Their goal with the liquor license is to allow patrons to drink while watching their kids exercise and playing games. McNulty said they would have minimal food that would not require a kitchen. They would encourage patrons to bring their own food.
They have an agreement with Shaffer Distribution to install arcade equipment. They also could purchase the games through financing. Tri-County Ninja also has agreements with board game distributors.
“We really just want to add to Fenton without taking away from the current businesses,” he said, adding that there is a need for facilities in the area that offer family activities. McNulty said he currently employs eight people and they are “severely” understaffed for what they do. He anticipates doubling their staff after expanding. They’re hoping to implement these changes in mid May.
Lorraine said he doesn’t approve of letting parents drink when they’re going to be driving their kids. Reid said she likes the opportunity to bring something like this to Fenton
Zoning Administrator Michael Deem said municipalities are allocated one quota liquor license per every 1,500 residents. Based on numbers from the Census, the township has 11 liquor licenses and nine are now active with this approval. Two licenses are left.
According to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, quota licenses are “a limited number of specific license types allowed based on the population of a local governmental unit. Once the quota limit for a license type is met, no new licenses of that type can be issued in that local governmental unit. However, most quota licenses are transferrable by location from one local governmental unit to another.”
There are three main licenses included in that number — hotel license, tavern license, and Class C license. A Tavern License would allow a “restaurant or bar to sell and serve beer, wine, and mixed spirit drink products for consumption on the licensed premises.”
Deem said in the last few years, the township has invested into planning the future land use of the Thompson Road Corridor. Their goal is to promote economic development in the area.
“Townships are very limited in what economic development tools we have to promote in bringing businesses to the township. A liquor license is one of those few tools that we have,” Deem said.
“When considering which locations are best or most appropriate at this time based on the investments into the Thompson Road Corridor, I would have a hard time recommending approval of this quota license. That has nothing to do with the business itself… If they were able to bring in a license, I think you guys would find that an appropriate use for that location.”
Having liquor licenses available for hotels or sit-down restaurants in the Thompson Road Corridor is an “important economic development tool,” Deem added.
Once a license is issued, the municipality cannot control it anymore. A liquor license can be sold or transferred out of the township. If a business were to bring in a liquor license from another municipality, it would not count against the township’s quota licenses. If one of the nine businesses with a Fenton Township quota licenses were to move out of the township, the license would still count against the Township’s quota licenses, Deem said.
Two liquor licenses are active on the Thompson Road Corridor. One of them counts as a quota license.
The state also has a 500 foot setback requirement from churches and schools. There is a waiver process. However, Tri-County Ninja is fewer than 250 feet from a church across the street.
Lorraine said other municipalities with corridors, such as Miller Road, that have hotels and other establishments have saved liquor licenses for these corridors.
“I look at the long term for what’s best for this township and I truly believe there is going to be a better use for that license. It does not prevent him from getting one,” he said.
Goupil spoke in favor of approving the liquor license for Tri-County Ninja.
“The thought of punishing someone that lives locally with a local business that wants to do something because of what potentially might happen — we’re favoring the people that aren’t even here yet over somebody that is here and trying to make an honest living. And honestly, I’m biased about him because he’s a retired deputy,” said Goupil, who’s a retired deputy, adding that they wouldn’t put up with poor drunk behavior.
“A retired cop isn’t going to put up with any of this stuff that we see at these other places. I guarantee you, as a 21-year deputy, that a hotel with a liquor license causes a lot more problems than a Magic the Gathering place with a liquor license.”
McNulty said if they aren’t able to acquire a quota license, they could buy one for $50,000 plus filing fees. He said chains are most likely the businesses that will come to the Thompson Road area.
“$50,000 doesn’t even move their needle. What I could do with $50,000 with the charity work that we do and the stuff that we do for kids and how many arcade games or how many more ninja rigs I could put in? I could do all sorts of things with $50,000 and I don’t have $50,000 in reserve somewhere,” he said. “I’ve lived in this township, we’ve been here, we are active in the community. It is not fair, and I understand life’s not fair, but it’s not fair for us to be punished to hold a carrot out for some corporation who’s going to pay it anyway. $50,000 for me is a lot of money.”
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