Petitions bearing 1,000 signatures regarding the sale of alcohol consumption licenses were submitted today.
Gary Kapner, former president of the New Providence Business and Professional Association who helped start the petition, said via email that he delivered the petitions to Borough Clerk Wendi Barry.
The purpose of the petitions is to have the following question placed on the ballot for the general election on November 8, 2011:
“Shall the retail sale of all kinds of alcoholic beverages, for consumption on the licensed premises by the glass or other open receptacle pursuant to chapter one of the Title Intoxicating Liquors of the Revised Statutes (s. 33:1-1 et seq.), be permitted in this municipality?”
Kapner said it has been more than 20 years since someone has tried to get this issue on the ballot.
As a board member of the New Providence Downtown Improvement District and owner of , Kapner penned a in June, explaining why he believes the sale of liquor licenses could be used as "an economic tool" to help revitalize the downtown area.
The number of signatures collected far exceeds the 653 that were needed. Borough Administrator Douglas Marvin said that number is based on a percentage of New Providence residents who voted in the last general assembly election two years ago.
Marvin said the next step in the process is for the council to prepare a resolution. From there, a referendum would be sent to the county clerk's office to be placed on the November ballot for voters to consider.
Marvin said he is optimistic that the sale of liquor licenses could help create a stronger, more active downtown.
"Included in a successful community are the following components: public safety, good schools, a vibrant downtown and recreational programs that include all aspects of the community," Marvin said. "Liquor licenses would be very helpful in creating a strong, vibrant downtown. As more people are drawn to the downtown, they will have an opportunity to see how much we have to offer."
Marvin noted that much work has been done to the streetscape and new restaurants would allow others a chance to appreciate everything that the downtown embodies.
Marvin said New Providence is not currently thought of as an evening destination the way neighboring towns are, such as Summit or Westfield, because of the lack of upscale restaurants.
"Once you have people coming, you attract more establishments," Marvin said. "In Summit, there are lots of options: Roots, Fiorinos. We don't have that here."
Bill Ross, who works at Radio Shack and has lived in the area more than half his life, agrees.
"New Providence is a higher-end town," he said. "It would be nice to have some upscale, quality restaurants. If they could get a liquor license and a nice restaurant came around, it would be very profitable. Not just for them, but for other businesses because everyone would have a chance to see what else is around."
Ginger Green, who recently moved to the area, concurred. "It's definitely a good idea," she said. "It would be great to get some nice restaurants in the downtown. It would be very convenient not to have to drive too far."
While Marvin said he personally has not been approached about any new dining establishment looking to open in the vacant storefronts that dot the Village Shopping Center, he said he heard that there were restaurants interested. But without having a liquor license as their other operations do, potential renters were hesitant to move forward.
Marvin said the Borough would most likely qualify for the sale of three liquor licenses based on a current population of slightly less than 12,000, if the referendum were passed in November.
Kapner said the sales of those licenses could bring in as much as $250,000 to $500,000, and the Borough Council would determine how the funds would be allocated.
Despite rumors that may be circulating, Marvin said there have been no discussions on the part of the council on how revenues would be spent. The revenue generated goes to the general fund of the Borough, he explained. The Borough Council decides how the money is spent or saved. As a general fiscal policy, the Borough has not used one-shot revenue items, such as the sale of liquor licenses, for general operating expenses.
Kapner said while stand-alone bars would not be considered, restaurants and restaurants with limited bars would be suitable candidates.
Marvin said if the referendum passes in November, the licenses would be put out to bid.