Plan to add more liquor licenses favors Dot, Mattapan, South Bay

Mayor Martin Walsh and at-large City Councillor Ayanna Pressley on Monday outlined a plan for bringing 152 new liquor licenses to Boston - a plan that could mean a significant number of new licenses for Dorchester and Mattapan.

Under their proposal, which needs approval by the city council, the Legislature, and the governor, Dorchester and Mattapan would each get at least 15 new liquor licenses, doled out over three years. But unlike the additional liquor licenses the state gave Boston in 2014, these ones cannot be granted in other neighborhoods, ie., if 15 Mattapan restaurants or bars don’t apply for the licenses, the Boston Licensing Board would keep the lefrtovers until enough Mattapan places do apply.

John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development, said the problem with the earlier approved licenses – 25 per year for three years – is that they did not give the city enough “lead time” for a natural pipeline of applications and distributions. If a business in any of the underserved neighborhoods was ready to apply for a license, it could do so, and the licenses were considered on a first-come-first-serve basis regardless of distributions across the city.

“Where you would, in the first go-round, have neighborhoods that were more prepared to apply get the license, in the second round it doesn’t matter if a business is ready to apply in Roxbury or not,” he said. The licenses assigned to Roxbury would “stay on the shelf,” reserved for that neighborhood alone and unable to be commandeered by a more prepared applicant in, say, Mission Hill.

The proposal would also essentially grant an unlimited number of licenses at the South Bay Town Center now under construction by creating a class of “umbrella” licenses for any developments of at least 500,000 square feet, such as South Bay and the even larger Seaport Square project in South Boston.

Under this proviso, similar to a license deal already in place for Logan Airport, the owners of such developments would get a single site-wide license that they could then use for tenants with restaurants, subject to approval by the Licensing Board, without affecting the number of licenses available in the rest of the city.

“Well that’s basically about South Bay,” City Councillor Frank Baker said on Monday. “So South Bay or any project of that size, over 500,000 square feet, would be an umbrella license and they would go as needed. So they could go with less than we had thought initially or it could be more.”

Last year, the City Council agreed that South Bay Town Center would need at least a dozen liquor licenses for restaurants and a planned cineplex, and said it wanted Seaport Square to get at least three liquor licenses. Officials will continue to push for licenses across the city.

“We need them,” Baker said. “Every neighborhood needs them. There’s even some city-wide that are needed... Where the city’s growing, we need that for our economic stimulus.”

Walsh calls the proposal a “balanced approach to licensing.” Over three years, starting this year, the 152 licenses would be phased out across Boston – each year releasing ten city-wide, with five reserved for  Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill, and Roxbury, and five for Main Streets Districts. The Lawn on D in South Boston and the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End would each receive an all-alcohol license.

The non-transferable, strategically assigned liquor permits should relieve some of the competitive pressures, officials said. Pressley has championed affordable, neighborhood-designated licenses as a vital tool for encouraging small business growth.

“This is the next natural step in our push to reduce disparities in neighborhood sit-down restaurants across the city,”  she said 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.”