Liquor license holders in South Jersey are again trying to get local officials to block limited permits for rivals. That’s OK. Companies often try to get government’s help suppressing their competition and it sometimes works, so they can hardly be blamed for trying.
But in the two cases lately of limited liquor permits on government-owned properties in Middle Township and Atlantic City, not only do the permits look completely legal and ordinary, they serve significant public interests.
Cape May County last year purchased an abandoned retail center in Rio Grande. Its plan to redevelop the center includes locating social services there such as a veterans’ clinic and a few private businesses. For one of those, an entertainment complex with a theater and bowling alley, the county would like the tenant to be able to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises.
In New Jersey, there is a special concessionaire permit that seems ideal for this purpose. It is available only to facilities at properties owned by the state, a county or municipality, for use by operators contracting with those governments. The permit is for beverages consumed on-site — no sale of package goods allowed. Such permits are routinely issued for sporting venues, golf courses, marinas and college pubs.
Yet when the county discussed the plan with the township committee, holders of existing unlimited liquor licenses complained angrily that allowing a limited and cheaper permit would devalue their licenses — which because they are restricted in number by a 1969 law have risen in value to an estimated $600,000.
But county and township officials serve the interests of all their constituents, who would benefit greatly from a redeveloped and thriving County Commons in place of the derelict retail and theater complex. That would draw traffic to many businesses in the Rio Grande area and take some of the burden off county and township taxpayers. The commons would also provide residents with needed services and desirable entertainments in a convenient location.
Liquor license holders were even more brazen in their attack late last year on Stockton University’s application for a special concessionaire permit. The university wants the permit so it can serve alcohol at special events. It said it doesn’t plan to open a college pub, as other state colleges have done with such a permit.
Yet even this limitation wasn’t enough for liquor license holders pressing their interests. One said that instead of getting the perfectly legal and customary concessionaire permit, Stockton should pay them to cater their events.
No wonder cities, counties and state legislators are working on ways to reform New Jersey’s archaic liquor regulatory system to allow limited licenses to be used to encourage development, especially of restaurants.
That would help business districts, according to the N.J. League of Municipalities, which supports changes to the license system. Even the N.J. Restaurant and Hospitality Association, which has resisted changes in the past, agrees that redevelopment areas sorely need new liquor licenses.
There are about a dozen bills in the Legislature that would make it easier to sell alcoholic beverages.
One with growing momentum is from Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, which would allow certain restaurants to purchase permits to serve alcohol for from $1,500 to $10,000. Existing unlimited license holders who proved they were harmed by the legislation could receive compensation in the form of tax credits over five years.
Such reforms are in the future. For now, the special concessionaire permits for Cape May County and Stockton University should be approved under existing law so these government entities can get on with turning around areas in need of redevelopment.