Main Street, Hackensack, NJ
HACKENSACK, NJ—A coalition of business revitalization advocates, the mayor and a local assemblyman say further mixed-use development in the Bergen County seat could get lubricated if the state legislature approves a plan to grant limited liquor permits for retail establishments in those developments.
The proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 4734, would allow the issuance of non-transferable liquor permits in a narrow class of transit-oriented districts that have been designated as being in need of redevelopment. For the immediate future, that definition only applies to Hackensack.
Listen to an exclusive audio news report about the liquor permits in the player below.
“A lot of development is going on in and around Hackensack, property values have gone up,” says Jerome (Jerry) Lombardo, chairman of the board of the Main Street Business Alliance in Hackensack. “Major developers have realized that Hackensack is teed up for development. It’s kind of like a mosaic, every little piece helps you move the whole thing forward.”
Jerry Lombardo, left, chairman of the Main Street Business Alliance, and Hackensack Mayor John P. Labrosse Jr.
“The nice thing about this bill is that it gives something back to existing license holders,” says Hackensack Mayor John P. Labrosse Jr. “We want a little bit of a restaurant crawl where people are walking up and down the street. We want a busy, vibrant pedestrian-friendly downtown, that serves liquor.”
The Alliance has assembled a number of pieces that make further development attractive, including a performing arts center, and about 1,000 units of housing that are going to be built over the top of new retail space on Main Street, Lombardo says.
“All the successful downtowns where there has been redevelopment, Hackensack is trying to do the same thing,” he says. “We need to create the retail activity, the restaurants, and everything else. As an additional puzzle piece, we know that we need to be able to sell alcohol in the downtown.”
The cost of traditional liquor licenses places them out of reach of small businesses, according to Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson, the Democratic 37th district legislator—and deputy assembly speaker—who is sponsoring the bill.
NJ Assembly Deputy Speaker Gordon Johnson
“The city or some entity will hold the ownership of this permit and will issue them to small restaurants,” he tells GlobeSt.com. The goal is to foster the growth of smaller restaurants and the permits will not be available to large national chains like the ones that have outlets at the Riverside Square shopping mall in the city.
“This bill is designed to find the people with small businesses who want to open small restaurants to populate the downtown,” he says. “That’s an area that’s been in need of redevelopment and it’s a transit hub, and that restricts it to Hackensack as a pilot project.”
Existing liquor license holders in the city—but not those in the mall—will get a share of proceeds from the sales of the limited permits, as a way of compensating them for the additional competition, Johnson says.
“These are non-transferable, non-salable, so it’s a very limited permit to sell alcohol,” says Lombardo. “We wanted very strict limitations on them. You have to be a transit-oriented development, you have to have a city of a certain size, and you have to have an area that’s been designated as in need of redevelopment, and the key component is, you have to create new housing. If you do all those things, you can qualify for the permit.”
Each 100 units of housing would qualify for a permit under the legislation that would have to be used only in the Main Street redevelopment district, Lombardo says.
Odds of the bill passing the legislature are good, Johnson believes. “I think it will get passed this calendar year, recognizing that we’ve been working this for a long time with the Main Street Alliance, and the city of Hackensack,” he says. “We have to get more people in our downtown areas, and on our downtown streets, and this is a great way to do it. Based on that, it will get support and will get through the Assembly.”
Mayor Labrosse hopes the Assembly will act on the bill soon, but he and Johnson both acknowledge that it might need to wait for approval by a new governor after the election this fall.