With days to go until the first public hearing on the proposal, business owners and city officials are at odds over whether the city should issue additional liquor licenses.
“It’s going to hurt the small businessman,” John Brewer’s Tavern owner Bill Honeycutt told Waltham Patch.
The proposal currently calls for the city to issue 15 new liquor licenses, but there are a few twists. Ten of the new licenses would be for full-liquor service, while the remaining five would be for beer and wine service, according to City Council Vice President Kenneth Doucette. Currently, the city has issued 100 licenses, according to License Commission Clerk Darlene Wansiewicz.
Also, new licenses would be issued for specific locations the city is looking to have developed, according to Doucette. Licensees would not be able to carry the license to a new location. Business owners would rent the new licenses from the city, instead of the traditional approach of buying them, according to City Councilor Thomas Curtin.
Since the proposal is being done through a home rule petition (special type of law) the State Legislature would have to approve the measure as would Gov. Deval Patrick.
The City Council and License Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal on May 14 at 8 p.m. at City Hall. The public is welcome to attend and speak. A second hearing is planned, but the date has not yet been announced.
While no new licenses have been issued yet, officials have mentioned the former Polaroid site, former Watch Factory and former Main Street Ford site as just some of the places licenses could be issued.
Business owners cite several ways additional licenses could hurt them, while proponents of the idea say the city needs to attract more businesses to the area.
Business owners cited two specific concerns in objecting to the proposal. The resale value of existing licenses would fall if more licenses are issued, according to Honeycutt. He said a liquor license is a valuable commodity for a business owner but additional licenses would make existing ones “almost worthless,” because new licensees would lease new licenses for much less money.
“The city should not be creating licenses,” Honeycutt said.
Instead, Honeycutt said, new owners should purchase existing licenses. Currently, two licenses are not in use and five were transferred last year, according to Wansiewicz.
Supporters of the proposal cite the need to attract more businesses and build a larger commercial tax base. Mayor Jeanette McCarthy, who supports the proposal, said the city needs to attract businesses to undeveloped sites, but also should address any concerns. She said she plans to study the number of licenses that could soon be available relative to how many the proposal is asking for. Once complete, McCarthy said she would assemble a revised proposal for the License Commission and Law Department to review.
“I feel there is a need particularly in the [Route] 128 area… for some additional licenses,” she told Waltham Patch.
McCarthy also acknowledged concerns over devaluing existing licenses.
“I’m trying to specifically not to put anyone out of business,” McCarthy said.
Hopefully, said City Councilor Thomas Curtin, new licenses would attract destination restaurants and help generate additional revenue that would bolster the commercial tax base.
“By doing this, it encourages these destination restaurants to come and experience Waltham,” Curtin said. “I think it is really important that we encourage these people to come here.”
More competition would hurt existing businesses, Joey LaCava, the general manager of The Sports Pub, told Waltham Patch. LaCava believes the local market cannot support having more liquor licenses.
“I think it is going to hurt every business. It’s making us very scared,” Joey LaCava, the general manager of The Sports Pub, told Waltham Patch.
LaCava suggested businessmen looking to open new locations should buy existing licenses.
If new licenses are issued, 15 may be too many, said City Councilor Robert Logan. Logan, who supports the idea, however, believes 15 new licenses is too many. Instead, Logan suggested the city issue two for each site the city is looking to develop. Having too many new licenses, he said, could result in a temptation to issue them to “fringe type of establishments.”
“It’s sort of difficult not to give them out,” Logan said.