Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald
Creighton University got approval Wednesday to serve liquor at a new sports cafe-style restaurant opening on campus this summer.
The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission granted a license to Sodexo America, Creighton’s catering service, to offer beer, liquor and wine in the restaurant planned for the new campus center. Commission Chairman Robert Logsdon gave a simple explanation.
“Creighton is an excellent school, and the work that they’ve done shows that they know the law and will follow it,” he said. “Plus, I just think the kids will be better off sitting right there on campus having a drink rather than going around to 10 different places drinking.”
Creighton now joins a handful of colleges around the nation that can serve alcohol on campus daily, including the University of Tampa, Chicago Medical School and California Lutheran University. Approval on a 2-0 commission vote came after a year of planning by Creighton officials and after protests from the groups Project Extra Mile and Pride Omaha, which work to prevent underage drinking.
“Our community has worked diligently to put effective policies in place to prevent youth access to alcohol. It’s not time to take a step backward in the community’s progress to keep young people safe,” said Diane Riibe, Project Extra Mile director.
Creighton plans to open the restaurant and serve alcohol to alumni, staff and students who are over 21. The cafe will be in the new Mike and Josie Harper Center, a four-story, 214,000-square-foot conference center slated to open in July.
Creighton previously received approval for a liquor license from the Omaha City Council.
Riibe told the liquor commissioners that her group objected for two reasons.
“Number one is the obvious health and safety aspect for students. . . . The other is that we believe that the statute forbids Creighton from getting that license.”
Riibe said state law excludes anyone from serving alcohol, except beer, within 300 feet of a university campus. But there’s an exception that allows private schools, such as Creighton, to hire an outside entity to sell alcohol on campus during university-sanctioned events, said Hobert B. Rupe, executive director of the Liquor Control Commission.
“The university is saying every day is considered an event, and we believe that’s not the intent of the statute,” Riibe said.
Creighton officials said their plans do meet the law’s exception, because inviting alumni back to campus is an event.
Mike Kelley, a lawyer representing the school, said Creighton would take every step to make certain underage drinking did not occur.
“This restaurant will have state-of-the-art equipment to monitor ages,” he said, along with rules to help deter underage drinking at the restaurant.
Some of those include:
–Requiring students to wear colored wristbands to denote age.
–Using special devices that scan driver’s licenses to make certain they are genuine.
–Forbidding shots or packaged alcohol sales.
–Suspending underage students caught drinking on campus.
“In my humble opinion, this will be a strict — if not the strictest — controlled outlet for alcohol,” Kelley said.
Of the nearly 7,000 students on Creighton’s campus, a little more than 4,000 are of legal drinking age, John Cernech, the school’s vice president for student services, told the commission. There also are 3,000 faculty and staff members — and roughly 11,000 alumni — in the Omaha area who would benefit from the restaurant, Cernech said.
“We would like to have our alumni feel comfortable coming back here and coming back to campus,” he said.