Petition drive to bring liquor-by-the-drink to Knox County officially underway

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The battle to bring liquor by the drink to un-incorporated areas of Knox County is underway now.

The owner of Aubrey's restaurant is collecting signatures hoping to get the issue before voters in November.

Aubrey's owner Randy Burleson is clearly behind this move, because it could be a big money-maker for businesses like the Aubrey's location at Cedar Bluff that can't sell liquor.

But it could also help other communities like Halls get more restaurants.

But at what cost?

The question of whether or not to allow sales of liquor by the drink in unincorporated Knox County is a several sided issue. There's the serving side for restaurants.

Burleson says, "Everyday of the week, someone comes in and says can I have a glass of wine? And we say unfortunately it is a dry county. And they immediately say I' going to have to go somewhere else."

There's the business side for restaurants.

Burleson says, "We could bring in another 10-percent of sales. And I mean, it's several thousands of dollars a week."

Burleson adds that communities like Halls, South Knoxville, and Hardin Valley, could support big chain restaurants.

Burleson says, "Hardin Valley is another situation. They're going to be opening up a little Mexican Restaurant. And it's going to be your first Mexican Restaurant that you can't have a Margarita at."

And there's the tax revenue side. If the referendum doesn't make the ballot or get voted in, will Knoxville City annex some areas and gain those sales tax dollars?

R. Larry Smith is a Knox County Commissioner and says, "It's a gain for the city. The city gains it and the county would lose. Maybe that's a good reason to go metro government if we keep dealing with this."

Then there's the side of the churches. John McBride says he can't speak for all 155 of Knox County's Baptist Churches.

John McBride with the Knox County Baptist Association says, "Our efforts are toward life and toward sustaining life and enriching life."

McBride says he thinks that the more outlets there are for alcohol, the more the availability there is to those who really should not be drinking it.

McBride says, "And so to us, it's a safety issue. It's a life issue. It's a futures issue."

The time line to put this referendum on the November ballot is September 5.

The number of qualified signatures needed is right at 13,000 -- that's a little more than 170 signatures a day.

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