Liquor License Proposal Leaves Out Charlestown

By Seth Daniel and Beth Treffeisen

City Council legislation filed last week that could unlock more than 150 new liquor licenses in Boston once again leaves Charlestown in the dark, with the proposal passing up the Town for neighborhood-specific licenses, potentially continuing to make opening a restaurant in the Town a difficult proposition.

In the wake of the proposal, put forth by Councilor Ayanna Pressley on March 8, City Councilor Sal LaMattina and State Rep. Dan Ryan said they are now working on a plan together that would help bring Charlestown into the license loop. They said they hope to include Urban Renewal Areas, with Charlestown being almost entirely an Urban Renewal Area.

“I am a little concerned about this because Charlestown was not one of the neighborhoods on the list,” said LaMattina. “I look at a place like the Grasshopper Cafe and they want a beer and wine license and they can’t get one. It’s not fair for small businesses. We need to have licenses for all businesses. You see what happened when Monument got a license. It’s booming. It’s brought new life to that area. I’m going to be advocating that Charlestown get five beer and wine and all alcohol licenses per year…This is big. We want to encourage more restaurants to open here.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan said the proposal by the City Council is not a finished product, and there is time to consider how and if to include Charlestown.

“It is my understanding that the liquor license home rule petition filed with the City Council to be sent to the legislature is the beginning of the process not the final product,” he said. “I look forward to working with Mayor Walsh, Councilor LaMattina, Councilor Pressley and the other at Large City-Councilors along with my colleagues here in the legislature on a bill that works for Boston and includes Charlestown.  Councilor LaMattina, Senator DiDomenico and I have had a couple of conversations as to what we are hearing are Charlestown’s needs. We need some time to talk to residents and the business community to make sure we are approaching this prospect correctly. I feel confident that this is an opportunity to improve Charlestown’s business climate in a manner that helps our already existing local businesses and residents”.

Pressley brought up a Home Rule Petition to seek additional liquor licenses to support economic development citywide at this past week’s Boston City Council hearing held on Wednesday, March 8.

The proposal would grant the City of Boston an additional 152 non-transferable liquor licenses as part of an ongoing effort to attract new businesses and restaurants in underserved neighborhoods throughout Boston, but Charlestown was once again not on the list of areas where neighborhood-specific licenses would be granted.

The same transpired in the last round of 75 licenses, whereby Charlestown had no Main Streets district and didn’t qualify as an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, leaving the Town without a opportunity to get reserved licenses.

The recent Petition was sent to the Committee of Government Operations to hold a future public hearing. If passed by the Boston City Council it will then move onto the State to take the final vote.

“This is the next natural step in our push to reduce disparities in neighborhood sit-down restaurants across the city,” said Pressley in a statement. “I am happy to collaborate with Mayor Walsh to craft legislation that supports our neighborhoods in growing at their own speed and continues to support the development of restaurant clusters in our business districts that will be economic and social anchors.”

The 152 non-transferable liquor licenses will be phased in over three years from 2017 to 2019. They will not be allowed on the private market and must be given back to the City if the business that holds it changes.

In addition, once these licenses are granted to a specific neighborhood they cannot be later transferred to a different one and must stay within that area. That way, Pressley said, a restaurant in one neighborhood will not be competing with a restaurant in another neighborhood.

Liquor licenses on the black market in recent years have being going for about a quarter of a million dollars but now once this legislation is passed one can get one for $2,700 to $3,000.

There will be 10 citywide (seven all-alcohol licenses and three beer and wine) licenses a year, with no more than three a year able to go to the neighborhoods of Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the North End, totaling 30 overall.

In addition, five licenses (three all-alcohol and two beer and wine) a year, 15 per neighborhood over three years, will go out to the following neighborhoods including Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill and Roxbury, totaling 105 overall.

Each neighborhood will be able to issue the licenses at there own pace. If one of the neighborhoods, such as Mattapan, doesn’t use up all of the five licenses in the first year they will be transferred over to the next year and so on into perpetually.

There will be five licenses (three all-alcohol and two beer and wine) a year for Main Streets Districts, totaling 15 overall.

There will also be the creation of “umbrella licenses” for development projects larger than 500,000 square feet in the City of Boston. Under an “umbrella license” each individual operator may apply for a license to the Boston Licensing Board without impacting the City’s current liquor license cap.

Under this proposal the Lawn on D at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston will receive a one all-alcohol license that can be interchanged between vendors. Additionally, the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) in the South End will receive one all-alcohol license that can be applied to their many facilities from the Beehive to the Cyclorama.

In 2014, Boston was granted legislative approval for 25 new liquor licenses per year, over the course of three years. It also supported getting a local licensing board for the City of Boston. In that legislation 80 percent of the licenses were geographically restricted and the remaining 20 percent were eligible to be sold on the open market. In this proposal, 100 percent of the new liquor licenses will be non-transferable.

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