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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Liquor license auction Friday could spur downtown renewal

An opportunity to move up from a shot-and-a-beer culture?

The auction of a Plainfield liquor license today (correction: Friday) could have a lasting impact on economic development downtown Plainfield's transit-oriented district (TOD) centering on Plainfield's main train station.

The license at issue is that held by the estate of the owner of J.C.'s Lounge on Richmond Street near East Second. It is being auctioned by the state in Somerville this morning as property seized by the state's Division of Taxation. While licenses are tied to locations, it is possible to buy a license and have it relocated to another site. All it takes is patience and money.

Though the rules are complicated and strict, and require the kinds of money you and I may not have lying around (a minimum opening bid of $100,000, with 25% of the winning bid to be paid at the time of the auction), this opportunity is a godsend for the likes of developer Frank Cretella, who has big designs on downtown Plainfield. Several of the ideas he has pitched to local officials are predicated on having a classy bar and lounge as part of the deal -- one proposal was even to put a rooftop restaurant and cocktail lounge atop the old United National Bank building at 2nd and Park.

Cretella has many projects in various stages of development and has noticeably slowed down their progress in recent months, partly no doubt in anticipation of changes at City Hall in January.

However, one of the developer's biggest headaches has been getting a liquor license.

For those unfamiliar with the thinking behind TOD development, one of its main prongs is mixed-use (commercial and residential) development in the TOD area. The thought is that spiffy apartments near transportation hubs will attract young professionals (and, as it turns out, some empty-nesters) who are interested in a lively neighborhood scene without the hassles of the suburban lifestyle.

'Lively' is meant to include good restaurants, nice shops and plenty of entertainment options. Liquor licenses, which are scarce as hen's teeth under New Jersey law, are a hotly pursued commodity. Most towns have more licenses than currently allowed under state law, so the game becomes one of finding a 'pocket' license or a willing seller.

The whole process is complicated by local officials who sometimes let personal opinions about the consumption of alcohol or peeves about the expense of policing currently rowdy taverns cloud their vision of how to improve the community's economic position. As in Aesop's famous fable though, once the goose that lays the golden egg is gone, so too are the golden eggs.

Word in the street is that one bar owner has signaled a willingness to sell to Cretella -- for $800,000, which seems on the high side to many observers.

One advantage of having the public auction of a license is that it will yield a more realistic assessment of what the fair market value of a license really is, which is the capitalist way, is it not?

Let's see how this all turns out. It could be very interesting and quite beneficial for downtown.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bernice said...

I think today is Thursday. The auction is on Friday.

Anonymous said...

Come on, Frank!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I wish the liquor store by East Second and Leland would close and moved to the business district. It should not be in the residencial areas.

Anonymous said...

I wish the liquor store by East Second and Leland would close and be moved to the business district area. A liquor store (not a bar) should not be in the residential areas.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, a liquor license will save Plainfield. Smoke crack much?

Unknown said...

PLEASEEEEEEE! i hope he bites and get it, our downtown area needs a lot of help. It's the worst looking are on rt 28 we need it.