Watertown sees liquor licenses as key to growth

Source: The Boston Globe

Images: KEITH BEDFORD & JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF

Watertown officials are hoping to see a spike in new restaurants or bars after receiving permission from the state to issue 15 additional liquor licenses. 

Governor Charlie Baker recently signed off on the special legislation required for the new licenses, which town officials sought as a way to spur growth in targeted areas including around the Watertown and Arsenal malls, Watertown and Coolidge squares, and the west riverfront on Pleasant Street. 

“We thought this was important in terms of economic development,’’ said Steve Magoon, the town’s director of community development and planning. “In trying to create unique, vibrant places that people are excited to go, a restaurant is an important component of that. Having the ability to serve alcohol is part and parcel of that.’’

The town has earmarked four of the licenses for existing projects, Magoon said. One will be granted to the Arsenal Center for the Arts at 321 Arsenal St., and also to three projects under construction. They are the new Marriott Residence Inn at 570 Arsenal St., and mixed-use developments at 60 Howard St. and 202 Arsenal St. Both projects include housing, retail and restaurant space.

But the remaining 11 are still up for grabs and those will be given out to new businesses in the targeted areas, Magoon said. 

Town Clerk John Flynn said the town previously had 33 licenses, all of which are being used. Massachusetts law places a restriction on the number of licenses a city or town can issue based on the municipality’s population. The towns can file special legislation requesting permission from the state Legislature for additional licenses. 

Last year, the Legislature approved 28 separate bills granting 71 new liquor licenses to 18 communities that have reached the state’s population-based cap, according to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

Flynn said he has received several inquiries about obtaining one of the new licenses but no applications have been submitted yet. The town’s Licensing Board is responsible for reviewing all applications and holding public hearings before any new licenses are issued.

Magoon said the town has been eager for a new hotel, but beyond that, officials haven’t identified any specific type of business for the licenses.

“Having a hotel is important to the town and we’ve gotten that,’’ he said. “For the other ones, it’s more of trying to create a critical mass of restaurants and entertainment that would be attractive to people.’’

The new licenses will be different from the others in terms of how they are distributed, Magoon said. Not only will geography play a role but they will be leased, not purchased. The previous licenses are bought by an establishment, which can then sell and transfer them to a new owner. The 15 new licenses will be owned by the town and leased out on an annual basis. 

License holders will pay a fee for a license and another fee to lease it annually. The amount has not yet been set, Magoon said.

“One of the concerns we heard from businesses is that they’ve invested in them and they are a commodity that is bought and sold,’’ he said. “They were concerned that by adding liquor licenses, we’d devalue what they’d invested in. This way, they will still have a commodity they can sell. It’s an attempt to create a somewhere even playing field.’’

William McQuillan, a principal with Boylston Properties, said his company thinks the east end of Watertown is in the midst of a renaissance and he hopes to apply for several of the new liquor licenses. 

The company is building the new Residence Inn, which is expected to open in August. He said there will be a small bar in the lobby but no restaurant. However, he said there will be several new restaurants coming in the renovated Arsenal Mall, which is still in the planning stages.

McQuillan said plans call for taking down some of the old mall, adding housing, restoring some of the historic buildings and adding five or six restaurants – all of which will need liquor licenses. 

“Without them, we can’t do what we want to do with that property,’’ McQuillan said. 

Currently, there are no sit-down restaurants at the mall. McQuillan said there may be one or two national or regional tenants with the rest of the restaurant space devoted to locally-owned establishments similar to the recently-opened Branch Line on Arsenal Street.

With the housing that will be added to the area, new office buildings, and the redevelopment of the 29-acre Athena Health campus at the Watertown Arsenal, McQuillan said the area will be booming.

“That’s all new fun and energy coming into that neck of the woods,’’ McQuillan said. 

McQuillan said the town has recognized that in the Internet age, there is less of a need for retail stores and a bigger demand for places to gather.

“What you can’t buy online is fun – going out to dinner with friends and experiences -- and that’s where retail development has trended,’’ he said.

Article can be found here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2016/04/29/watertown-dole-out-more-liquor-licenses/xfJh40alClr9yILBBF1IiJ/story.html?utm_content=buffer0f4ca&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer