Despite the urging of the city’s partners in the downtown redevelopment, Quincy city councilors expressed skepticism over a request to double the number of liquor licenses in that area.
Representatives from Street-Works came before the council on Monday night to discuss the addition of 27 liquor licenses to Quincy Center. Of those, there would be 20 all- alcohol restaurants, three wine-and-beer licenses, two “innkeeper” licenses for hotels, and two licenses for package stores.
Currently, therea are 99 liquor licenses citywide; 25 are in, but not tied to, the downtown.
According to Richard Heapes, co-founder and partner of Street-Works, the addition of 27 liquor licenses specific to the downtown area is crucial to the success of the $1.6 billion project.
“Short of what you did in approving the bond, this most be the most important decision you make to the success of Quincy,” Heapes told councilors.
Restaurants are the building blocks of a sense of place, Heapes said, pointing to the 62 liquor licenses in the 16 blocks of Harvard Square; 22 liquor licenses in the five blocks of Bethesda Row in Maryland; 26 liquor licenses in the 11 blocks of Santana Row in San Jose, Calif.; 31 liquor licenses in the 10 blocks of West Hartford, Conn.; and the 91 liquor licenses in the 20 blocks of the North End.
The Quincy downtown development is 16 city blocks, with 3.5 million square feet of mixed-use development.
Heapes painted a picture of restaurant clusters within the downtown, and assured councilors that although most of these licenses were “all alcohol,” their intent was to be for restaurants and not bars or nightclubs.
Yet councilors remained concerned.
For Councilor Brian Palmucci, the addition of over two dozen liquor licenses specified for the downtown would lower the value of the downtown restaurants that already have licenses, many of who paid high premiums to secure those limited licenses in the first place.
Additionally, if the city’s plans oversaturate the marketplace for liquor licenses downtown, restaurants that already have licenses will move to other parts of the city where they are more valuable.
“If we’re wrong in the assumption that’s what’s needed, we could free up to 25 licenses – the ones that currently exist – to move from the downtown area. They could end up in Ward 4. That’s a concern of mine. We don’t need another package store or another bar in Brewer’s Corner,” Palmucci said
The city’s attorney, Paul Hines, assured Palmucci that the licensing board would have oversight even if a license holder wanted to move to another part of the city.
The assurance wasn’t enough for Palmucci, who requested other controls to be put in place, such as a cap for liquor licenses for each neighborhood, a timed roll out of liquor licenses in the city, or additional procedures for handing out these newer licenses.
Hines suggested that those discussions occur outside of the hearing to be more productive.
Councilor Brad Croall also had concerns about existing licenses, and asked Street-Works to focus on capturing existing licenses that may be available before going out and creating new ones.
Croall also suggested efforts be made to earmark funding coming in from the sale of new liquor licenses to go to public safety efforts.
Councilor Brian McNamee also had his share of questions, specifically regarding existing customers.
“We need to hear from the public, business stakeholders in the current downtown and elsewhere in the city, like Marina Bay,” he said. “I don’t think we can get there without receiving their input and without hearing their concerns.”
Street-Works officials said the initial plan was to add 50 licenses, but decided that 27 would be more palatable and easier to pass through the state.
For those still troubled by that number, Hines urged councilors to look to the future.
“We need to look forward to the new Quincy. We need to stop looking down Hancock Street today,” Hines said.
Councilor Michael McFarland reminded councilors that a "yes" vote would only authorize the city to increase the number of licenses. Any restrictions would have to be enforced by the Licensing Board.
A subsequent meeting to parse out the concerns from the issue was scheduled for Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.