City Councilor Pleads the State Again to Grant Boston More Liquor Licenses

March 30, 2018
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At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley has filed a Home Rule Petition to ask the state legislature to give Boston the ability to issue 153 new liquor licenses, for mostly the outer neighborhoods, Main Street districts, and large new malls.

The petition was filed with the Boston City Council on Monday, March 19, and brought before the Boston City Council on Wednesday, March 21. This Home Rule Petition would replace a similar request that the state legislature took no action on in 2017.

“Restaurants are the glue for thriving, healthy neighborhoods,” said Councilor Pressley. “I am encouraged, but not yet satisfied by the success of the 2014 legislation, which helped dozens of new restaurants open and created hundreds of new jobs. It is clear that the city still sees disparities in walkable, sit-down amenities, but this Home Rule, in partnership with Mayor Walsh and the Massachusetts Legislature, is a step towards creating an ecosystem that allows neighborhoods to grow at their own pace.”

The 153 new liquor licenses will go towards under-served neighborhoods such as Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill and Roxbury and to designated “Main Street districts” that will include parts of neighborhoods such as Roslindale and West Roxbury.

In addition, Pressley is asking for a new classification of license called ‘umbrella licenses’ that operate exactly like the license at Logan Airport where all restaurant operators fall under the single license, protecting small business from competing for a limited number of licenses.

The umbrella license requires a development that exceeds 700,000 square feet gross floor area and has common ownership. Developments that qualify will apply under the same process as other licenses, and if awarded will allow operators hoping to open inside the development’s footprint to apply to the Boston Licensing Board to be allowed to serve alcohol under the umbrella license instead of requiring a stand-alone license.

The petition is asking for umbrella licenses to serve the Lawn on D at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End and the Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury.

Unlike most of the city’s current licenses, the new ones will be nontransferable and will be returned to the city if the establishment goes out of business. It can’t be resold on the open market, where licenses can be as expensive as $50,000 for beer and wine license and up to $45,000 for a full liquor license.

In 2014, Pressley led a successful campaign to get 75 new liquor licenses for Boston to help spur restaurant entrepreneurs in under-served neighborhoods.

The two most striking differences from the 2014 legislation are the eligibility requirements for the neighborhood restricted licenses and the creation of umbrella licenses.

Under the 2014 legislation, each neighborhood had equal access to the neighborhood restricted licenses, an operator in any of the seven neighborhoods, or a city recognized Main Street District could apply and if public need was proven, could be issued a license. There was no priority by neighborhood or distinction within the legislation.

In the 2018 legislation, each neighborhood will be given their own independent number of licenses that can only be issued within the boundaries of that neighborhood. For example, this legislation would create 15 new Mattapan licenses over three years that will be available whenever a restaurateur is ready to open there.

“Ultimately what we will send up to the State House is amendable but we can debate and talk about what other neighborhoods with the partnership of the district councilors and state representatives want to be included to expand the reach of this second home rule petition,” said Pressley.

There is a provision in the legislation that does not allow more than three of the all city licenses to go to the North End, Back Bay, or Beacon Hill as residents have raised concerns over saturation of licenses in those communities.
The Boston Licensing Board will grant the new licenses over a three-year period, beginning in September 2018 and ending by September 2020.

The home rule also creates a cool off period for operators who sell transferable license from applying for a new, non-transferable license for the same location in the same calendar year.

District 1 Councilor Lydia Edwards (Charlestown, East Boston, North End) pointed out that Charlestown was left out again in the legislation, despite previous efforts to include it.

“This is about equitably and small business development in all of our neighborhoods,” said Edwards.

She stated that there are some concerns over the devaluation of liquor licenses. Currently there is an artificial valuation that has ended up costing restaurateurs almost a half a million to get a license, which leaves out a lot of people who might not have the ability to get the loans and capital needed to open a restaurant.

“Even the best food isn’t going to be enough to keep your doors open,” said Edwards.

District 5 Councilor Tim McCarthy  (Roslindale, Hyde Park, Mattapan) said he too would like to see more liquor licenses for Roslindale, which still is struggling to get more sit-down restaurants.

“I’m excited about the possibilities and the opportunities,” said District 7 Councilor Kim Janey. “There are pockets where we have restaurants and thriving business districts because of the last ordinance passed. Roxbury had been a desert of restaurants but now after earlier work and leadership there are restaurants to go sit down with family and have a nice glass of wine with a delicious meal – It’s a game changer. Not only for my district but for all of Boston.”

District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley (West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain), said that Roslindale Square couldn’t be more different now then it was 20 years ago. One can now shop locally whether it be a restaurant or a flower store.

“It makes the neighborhood safer and makes it more active and bustling at night,” said O’Malley. “The benefits are enormous. I’ve seen it in Jamaica Plain but not enough in West Roxbury. The biggest complaint I hear is that there are too many banks and not enough restaurants.”

O’Malley asked that West Roxbury also be considered for some liquor licenses.

At-large Councilor Annissa Essabi-George pointed out another type of establishment trying to get some help – breweries. As of right now breweries can only serve beer that they brew, which creates a barrier to be stable and successful over the long term because they can’t diversify their offerings.

She said this would be similar to restaurants that offer house wines and also other wines for people not interested in those offerings.

The matter was placed on the Committee of Government Operation,s and does not have a scheduled hearing yet.

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