Wednesday, August 29, 2012

State Liquor Authority approves Barclays Center liquor license, but nudges back cut-off to 1 am from 2 am; may revisit issue if operators claim hardship; neighbors see small victory

In less than an hour, the State Liquor Authority this morning approved the Barclays Center liquor license--for 53 outlets--as requested, except for one key change arena operators resisted but to which they eventually relented.

They had requested a cut-off of alcohol sales to 1,800 VIP customers to go one hour after an event, or as late as 2 am, an absolute deadline requested by Brooklyn Community Board 6. The SLA imposed a 1 am cut-off, subject to revision should the arena argue hardship (in getting some promoters to commit to shows), and subject to the arena demonstrating a track record of operating compatibly with the community.

Arena operators initially resisted the change, but agreed reluctantly. Arena neighbors saw it as a small victory, a recognition of the unusual placement of the arena in a residential neighborhood.

"It was good to see the board paid attention to the concerns the community raised," Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC) said after the meeting. "I think it was positive that they are intending to get community input if there's any further changes."

Still, he said, a cut-off closer to 10 pm was what many neighbors sought, and "we'll continue to keep a close eye" on arena operations.

The backstory 

Some arena neighbors, not represented by CB6, had petitioned for a far earlier cut-off, of 10 pm, and questioned the after-hours service, especially since arena operators failed to disclose that plan when they made a joint presentation to CB6 and CB2. One commenter at today's hearing pointed to a pattern of a lack of accountability.

In June, an administrative law judge, in a two-part hearing, heard testimony from supporters and critics of the application. The judge's report has not yet been released.

SLA presses the question

Today, SLA Commissioner Dennis Rosen, after hearing additional brief testimony from the applicant, and community supporters and opponents, pressed the issue of the late cut-off.

Julie Margolin, director of operations for Levy Restaurants, said there would be "only 1,800 potential guests."

Rosen cited community concerns regarding after-event service. "Are there events that would go to 2 am?"

"Very, very few we anticipate," Marolin responded.

Rosen asked for examples.

Attorney Barbara Kwon pointed to 50 concerts and 12 boxing events that were expected to end between 11:30 and midnight.

Rosen noted that those events wouldn't nudge up against the 2 am cut-off.

Kown agreed, saying one event would be an exception. And for that event, an "electronica show" (aka Sensation), operators have voluntarily decided to end alcohol sales for all attendees at midnight, said Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton. She confirmed no other events currently on the calendar would go that late.

So the worse-case scenario, Rosen pressed, is a 12:30 or 1 am after-hours cut-off?

Based on the current schedule, Cotton responded, "absolutely."

Public testimony pro

The SLA then called for public comment. A representative of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Michelle Friedman, offered boilerplate support for the license, without engaging the community concerns.

Later, a representative of the New York Building Congress spoke similarly, offering the potentially open-ended statement that the arena "helps transform that neighborhood."

No Community Benefits Agreement supporters were present, unlike in June. Nor did any elected officials attend. Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman, along with his Community Board 2 counterpart Rob Perris, were in the audience, but didn't speak.

Public testimony con/wary

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association urged the SLA to take into consideration the "special relationship of the Barclays Center to Prospect Heights," citing a zoning override that allows the arena's placement in a residential district and an enormous surface parking lot, as well as the use of residential streets for arena-bound drivers and pedestrians.

He noted that a promised Quality of Life Subcommittee, which CB6 requested should meet before the liquor license was resolved, has not met, and that the community has "witnessed literally hundreds of violations" of environmental commitments regarding arena. He cited the failure to hire a promised Independent Compliance Monitor regarding the Community Benefits Agreement.

"This is the pattern with Atlantic Yards, and what we fear will be the pattern with the Barclays Center," he said.

"What are you asking for," Rosen asked.

Krashes said that Wrigley Field in Chicago has a cut-off one hour before events end. He noted that, at a 78th Precinct meeting last week, the precinct commander indicated little worry with the well-heeled after-hours drinkers. However, Krashes said, whatever the background, "they have the same behavior with alcohol."

Veconi cited a community request that sales end at 10 pm. No matter the outcome, he asked for confirmation that previous promises--such as no bottle service, a two-beverage maximum at a time, etc.--would be incorporated into the license.

Upon Rosen's request, Kwon confirmed assent.

Veconi pointed out that, based on the filings, "their business model doesn't seem to need" service until 2 am.

Danae Oratowski, another PHNDC officer, asked about private events at the arena and how late they could go.

Cotton aggreed that private parties could go to 2 am, but said that wasn't expected. Margolin said that graduates and corporate galas end early.

"You have to plan for the worst-case scenario," Oratowski pointed out.

Pressing on

Rosen asked the applicants about a 1 am cutoff, and found resistance.

"The problem from our perspective is that one hour is very important in terms of attracting events to the venue," said attorney William Schreiber.

Rosen pointed out that it hadn't affected their schedule yet and suggested that late-night events raise the question both of 18,000 people exiting at 1 am and 1,800 people drinking until 2 am.

He proposed that they try a 1 am cut-off and, if it proves a problem, the applicants could come back and   ask for a change. At that point, Rosen said, the arena might have also built credibility in the community.

Cotton protested that the cut-off might lose events like the electronica show.

"You're sort of making my point," Rosen replied. "You did that [set an earlier cut-off], and didn't lose the event."

Ultimately, Schreiber indicated reluctant acceptance, and Cotton added that it would be imposed for private events, as well.

Rosen said that the SLA wanted the arena to be successful and noted that he and Commissioner Jeanique Greene had visited the site.

One more issue

Greene wanted to know why the arena won't use electronic scanners to check IDs.

Margolin said an ID can be real, but may not match the guest holding it. Levy wants its employees to stay focused on the person. That's how they operate numerous venues around the country.

Transportation issues

Rosen asked about non-SLA issues like vehicular congestion.

Cotton cited a "rigorous Transportation Demand Management Plan" recently released.

"We believe the strongest disincentive to driving is to reduce parking," she said, skating over the community request for residential permit parking.

Cotton cited the effort to institute pre-paid parking via a module connected to the arena web site. "It allows patrons to buy a ticket and a parking spot at the same time," she said, not mentioning that hundreds of thousands of tickets were sold before such functionality was live.

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