City hall update // Potential Uptown brewery sets off debate over zoning

Southwest Minneapolis might be finally getting its first microbrewery — but not before a showdown at City Hall.

Pryes Brewing’s quest to open a brewery and a taproom at 25th & Hennepin has set off another debate on the City Council over where alcohol should be sold in Minneapolis.

The source of the debate dates back to late July, when the owners of Pryes released audio of a voicemail left for them by City Council Member Meg Tuthill  (Ward 10). The audio was posted onto a website called Sound Cloud. 

Tuthill was responding to an email request from Pryes co-owner Allan Flinn, who wanted to know if she might help in changing city ordinance to allow the brewery to sell growlers of beer, even though they’d be within 300 feet of Jefferson Community School’s property line. Growlers are large, reusable beer containers.

Some said Tuthill’s response was rude and dismissive of a potential business that wanted to move into a vacant building at 2528 Hennepin Ave. S. Tuthill was obviously irked by a part in the email where Pryes referred to the intersection as “Uptown,” as well as Flinn’s assertion that the brewery would revitalize the area.

“Are you kidding?” Tuthill asked Flinn in the voicemail. “It’s revitalized, honey. It does not need to be revitalized. The reason you want to come there is because it is revitalized and it’s doing just fine.”

Tuthill went on: “However, you are certainly welcome to open your brewpub there, as long as you meet current city ordinances. And, no, I will not be changing the ordinance for you. I don’t work on changing ordinances — and neither do any of my colleagues — for one business.

“Have a great day.”

The last part of her voicemail, about how her colleagues don’t work on ordinances for just one business, didn’t ring true. On Aug. 20, City Council Member Gary Schiff said he was looking into changes that would allow Pryes to sell growlers at that location. 

“I think there’s a big difference between a liquor store that attracts panhandlers being located near a school and a microbrewery that is only open after school hours and attracts a clientele that is willing to pay premium price for a locally crafted beer,” Schiff said. 

Under current city ordinance, off-sale liquor establishments are not allowed to open within 300 feet of the lot line of a school. This is a new rule that was authored by Tuthill in February, around the same time a man named Dan Kerkinni wanted to open a liquor store on the same block. Prior city law required 300 feet between the front door of a liquor store and the front door of a school, not the property line. 

Tuthill said she began working on that ordinance change prior to knowing about Kerkinni’s proposal. Kerkinni, at the time, said he felt targeted.  

Tuthill said she didn’t mean to be rude to the Pryes owners. 

“Well, it certainly wasn’t my intention, but I have to tell you that it does get my hackles up a little bit when someone makes an insinuation that the area needs revitalization, and it doesn’t,” she said. 

Tuthill owned a balloon shop at that same corner for 30 years before winning a seat on the council three years ago. 

 “After 40 years of hearing people refer to your community as ‘needs revitalization,’ ‘is blighted’ — I mean, you get a little sensitive when it’s your community and you’ve lived there and worked really hard to make it the kind of place where people will come and open up their businesses and live there and stay until they’re 110 years old,” she said. 

As to why she wouldn’t help the Pryes owners get an ordinance change, Tuthill explained, “He asked for a change for one business, and our policy here has historically been that we don’t change zoning for one business.”

Flinn, of St. Paul, owns the Pryes Brewing along with Jeremy Pryes and Ben Schuster of Minneapolis. 

Jeremy Pryes is the brewmaster, and he specializes in ales with plenty of hops. He’s currently perfecting his recipes from the basement of his South Minneapolis home, which is typical of aspiring brewery owners.

Flinn said he didn’t mean to imply the neighborhood was blighted when he emailed Tuthill.  

“We didn’t mean to imply that Uptown needed revitalization,” he said. “Our point, and it was probably a poor choice of words to get at it, is that this is something to help liven the area. It’s something new and fresh for Uptown or near the Uptown area, that residents would really get behind and support and enjoy and make that an even better experience to be in Uptown.”

As of late August, Schiff hadn’t introduced legislation to allow growler sales near a school, although he had contacted city staff about the possibility. He was successful in a similar change last spring, when he got the council to agree to allow growler sales near a church in Northeast Minneapolis. 

The Pryes owners said they would be willing to set their taproom hours around Jefferson’s school hours. But some parents have said that would be difficult, since the school is often used on weeknights for programming. 

Flinn said the group likely wouldn’t open at the 25th & Hennepin location without the ability to sell growlers. He was waiting to see if the council would make changes. 

“It’s our understanding that there is significant interest from other council members to support the change,” he said. “That’s really kind of where we’re going with it now.

“In the meantime, simultaneously, depending on what our time horizon is, we may have to start looking at alternative locations. But, again, our ideal location would be where that is.”