CB3 Appears Receptive to BID Involvement in Liquor Licensing, Despite Vehement Community Opposition
Should local business improvement districts have a hand in the liquor license process?
Last week, the SLA subcommittee of Community Board 3 heard a proposal by the Lower East Side Partnership that would see the business improvement district insert itself into the liquor license application process. Needless to say, the appearance on the agenda caused confusion amongst board members, angered many in the neighborhood, and resulted in quite the turnout at the Monday night meeting.
The proposal seemed like a sneak attack; it appeared out of left field with an apparent lack of community outreach and transparency regarding intent.
Partnership president Tim Laughlin pitched the panel on the notion that they could help attract better restaurants to the neighborhood, improve overall quality of license application materials (i.e. complete information), and that the BID could even assist in enforcement of stipulations (a function of the NYPD and State Liquor Authority).
Yet the messaging from the top of CB3 was framed quite differently. That BID involvement could offer more than the quality of restaurants, but also an opportunity to “streamline” the process and ease the load of SLA matters. Indeed, District Manager Susan Stetzer and Chair Alysha Coleman were strongly in favor, with the latter explaining how this arrangement could relieve the overburdened SLA subcommittee, which oftentimes works late into the night reviewing applications.
However, it certainly seemed as though most of the other committee members were blindsided, as little information was presented beforehand for preparation. Members later back-pedaled a bit by assuring the community that any potential involvement of the Lower East Side Partnership is in infant stages, and doesn’t appear on any agenda (yet) as a formal proposal. The meeting last week was apparently the first foray.
“The committee was very frustrated by having to spend time on a controversial agenda item that they had no prior knowledge of or context for, when the purported intent of the proposal is to ‘save the committee time and energy,’” one neighbor in attendance told us afterward.
The bigger question arising from this proposal, though, is whether involving the Partnership is a conflict of interest given the fact that the not-for-profit organization represents the best interests of member landlords. Not to mention, the BID maintains a track record of supporting liquor licenses within its district, despite community opposition or bad operators (e.g. The DL, 106 Rivington). Look to the recent past. For the four years ending 2013, then-President Bob Zuckerman, who previously served as executive director of the now-defunct New York Nightlife Association (folded into the NYC Hospitality Alliance), helped push through more nightlife (remember EMM on the Bowery). The trend continues.
As this potential setup could further exacerbate an already over-saturated Hell Square landscape – there are more than 100 liquor licenses in this area – the LES Dwellers Block Association were also noticeably vocal in opposition.
“We are vehemently opposed to the BID’s involvement in licensing process,” the LES Dwellers said in a statement. “People are very concerned and were taken aback that, at this stage with very little transparency and public input, CB3 Chair Alysha Coleman and District Manager Susan Stetzer were already in support of a proposal that wasn’t very thought out or well presented.”
“There are other ways to streamline the process which we have proposed to DM Stetzer repeatedly by suggesting CB3 modernize and create an online application portal. We should be working toward growing civic engagement, not empowering BIDS whose mission is to push the agenda of landlords and businesses.”
The Lower East Side Partnership was founded in 1991 by local real estate baron Sion Misrahi to attract business to the neighborhood with the “bargain district” slogan. That eventually translated to courting nightlife by an invasion of umpteen bars, hotels, and restaurants in a tiny nine-square-block radius. Enough to cause legitimate public heath concerns in the present day, according to one Hunter College study.
Its mission statement: “The Partnership’s mission is to enhance the unique and diverse character of the Lower East Side by improving overall quality of life and supporting the continued growth and vitality of the local economy.”
Meanwhile, CB3 Chair Coleman telegraphed that the matter will be up for public discussion during the Executive Committee meeting next Tuesday (November 20). Concerned residents and groups are encouraged to attend.