(Oct. 9, 2020) Worcester County government continues to make progress in its effort to rid itself of the Shore Spirits liquor store in Pocomoke City, as it accepted a contract for the sale of the business during the county commissioners meeting on Tuesday.
Since the county commissioners determined that competitive bidding is impractical in this case, it will sell the property without bidding for $675,000 plus the cost of inventory at the time of sale.
The deal has been held up since 2017, when the commissioners accepted a $1.75 million bid for the property from Kalpesh Patel, with the condition that he obtain a liquor license. The store is a lone holdover from the days of county-owned and operated liquor stores under the now county’s now abandoned liquor dispensary system.
To sell its liquor stores to private parties, the county needed to create a private party liquor, wine and beer sales license and a window that only successful bidders for its properties could apply.
The General Assembly passed legislation creating such a license early in 2017 and withheld public access to it until July 1.
The commissioners granted Kalpesh Patel the license, but Janik Patel (no relation), owner of the neighboring Newtowne Market Beer and Wine in Pocomoke, objected.
Janik Patel could not apply for the license because Kalpesh Patel’s higher bid of $775,640 allowed him to apply for the exclusive right for the license.
Janik Patel appealed, but both the Worcester County Circuit Court and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals rejected the appeal.
Since then, Kalpesh Patel has said that he is no longer interested in the property, so the commissioners awarded the contract to the second-highest bidder, Vinod Patel.
During the commissioners meeting, county attorney Roscoe Leslie advised them they could vote to find it impractical to put the store out for bid. If they vote at least 5-2 at a public hearing, then the property does not have to go through a formal bidding process.
Leslie also confirmed that the public hearing was advertised three times.
Attorney Hugh Cropper, now representing the third-highest bidder, T.J. Patel, said that it wasn’t impractical to call for bids and that his client would offer more at $700,000.
“You’ve been sitting on this property for over two years. There’s nothing to stop you from putting this out to competitive bids,” Cropper said.
He added that commercial real estate has gone up and that liquor licenses are more valuable. His client would also hire all the same employees.
“Of any group of commissioners, I can’t believe that this group would want to do anything other than wanting to have an open, transparent, competitive bid process to dispose of county property and get the most money you can for the taxpayers,” Cropper said.
He said everyone should have the opportunity to bid for the property.
County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic replied that it was not a behind-the-scenes deal.
“Your client had the right to bid on it at that time as much as he did, and he did bid that much,” Mitrecic said. “For you to come here and say your client is ready to offer $700,000 at the podium today is wrong.”
Cropper pointed out that it was put out to bid two-and-a-half years ago.
“If you had a piece of property that you were selling, and two-and-a-half years ago you made a contract and it got tied up in a title problem and litigation, two-and-a-half years later you go back to the person and they say ‘I no longer want it,’ you wouldn’t go back to your back-up contract,” Cropper said. “Right now, two-and-a-half years later, it would absolutely get offered for sale.”
County Commissioner Chip Bertino said that offering more money made it seem like an auction. When Cropper asked what was impractical about bidding, County Commissioner Ted Elder said they didn’t want to let go of the contract they have.
“We’ve been dragging this out for two-and-a-half years,” Elder said. “We tried to get out of the liquor business years ago.”
County Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom said he didn’t think it was impractical to put out another bid until Tuesday’s meeting.
“I believe this process, which is a closed bidding process, I believe it’s been compromised today by throwing data at the podium and saying ‘we will absolutely bid more,’” Nordstrom said.
County Commissioner Jim Bunting said he previously believed it should have been put out to bid again.
Commissioners voted 6-1 to go ahead with the contract they have, with Bunting in opposition.