HOLYOKE — A proposed amendment to the city’s Home Rule Petition for the purpose of expanding the Center City Liquor License Area will head to the City Council for approval before going to the state.

The Home Rule Petition was created for the purpose of assisting downtown businesses in securing a liquor license for restaurants and bars as it can be a costly item for many small businesses when starting up. An amendment was brought to the Development and Governmental Relations Committee during its April 22 meeting seeking to expand the Center City Liquor License area further down Hight Street toward Lyman Street.

Director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development Aaron Vega was at the meeting to take any questions on the proposed amendment. He explained it was a simple extension of the zone to allow for the new developers at the end of High Street to be included as it assists in attracting new businesses.

“When this was done 10 years ago, the snapshot of High Street was a little bit different. I think many of us are encouraged by the economic development happening on the north end of High Street, basically from Dwight Street to Lyman. There’s new property owners there, there’s new restaurants that have come there,” Vega explained. “This one’s purely for restaurants and purely expands the zone to include the rest of High Street.”

Vega added there are around five storefronts they hope to have active in the next year once the amendment is approved.

According to Vega, once the City Council approves the amendment, it then goes to state Rep. Patricia Duffy (D-Holyoke) for an amendment at the state level for the home rule petition.

Ward 3 Councilor David Bartley said this petition was created back when Vega was a Holyoke city councilor. Bartley also talked about how the idea behind creating the center city liquor license area was the same behind its proposed expansion now.

“If we do pass this, it’s a really nice feature. It’s not just to give everybody a liquor license to sell booze, it’s to get more restaurants going. You gotta have table side service. It’s already paid some dividends, not as much as we hoped when we originally did this,” Bartley said. “I hope that we can use this as an economic driver if anything.”

The bordered zone of the Home Rule Petition allows downtown businesses to easily access a liquor license owned by the city when looking to join the district due to the high costs of buying one. It also allows for the city to keep ownership of the license throughout the businesses lifetime.

Vega explained further the background of the petition and said the city owns these liquor license and is able to issue them out for $10,000 and covers the first-year renewal. The business does not own the liquor license provided.

“If the restaurant closes, it [the license] comes back to the city. So, it’s not an asset, they don’t sell it,” Vega explained.

He added while it was different, businesses were still beholden to the same application process as any other business with the Redevelopment Authority and this was not something the city just handed out freely due to its home rule petition.

Bartley asked Vega if further expansion should be warranted elsewhere in the city and if it should be considered as an economic driver elsewhere. Vega explained that in the process when the petition was originally formed for downtown redevelopment, and it may take a separate home rule petition for a different are of the city if that was something the city would consider pursuing.

“We looked at it as an economic development tool. We would say we don’t know yet what the restaurants are, but these areas are where things are starting to happen in downtown and let’s create this zone. It was very groundbreaking, and it was definitely a different program for the state to adopt. They understood what we were trying to do, to have these at the ready,” Vega said. “The idea was that this was really at the time one more tool in the toolbox for downtown redevelopment. Restaurants that come to the mall, the larger chain restaurants can afford a $50-60-70,000 liquor license. Can FAME, can Camellia’s support a $50,000 liquor license? Probably not. So, it really was how do we again focus on smaller businesses, not chain restaurants and that’s why we’ve chosen these zones.”

The proposed amendment will be acted on by the City Council at a future meeting.

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