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Community Board committees say inevitable Barclays Center liquor license should not go forward without community outreach, negotiation

Committees of Brooklyn Community Boards 2 and 6, urging attention to the Barclays Center's unique placement in and near residential districts, both last night urged caution to the operators of the Barclays Center arena, saying they were unwilling to support the venue's inevitable liquor license without reservations.

After a 2.5-hour hearing in a standing-room only meeting room at the 78th Precinct stationhouse just a block from the arena site, a CB 6 committee tabled any vote on the liquor license, then voted to urge the applicant, Levy Restaurants, to set up a community liaison group to address residents' concerns.

(Photos and set by Tracy Collins)

A CB 2 committee voted to approve the license, but with heavy reservations, including issues that are related but not exactly in Levy's hands: developer Forest City Ratner's issuance of a transportation demand management plan, which was promised in December but has been delayed until May, and a clarified arena security plan, which involves coordination of arena operations with the New York Police Department, which has yet to assign a precinct to be in charge of policing the arena.

The full boards also will make their recommendations, and then have a chance to again weigh in when the State Liquor Authority holds a hearing on the 500-foot rule, required when there are other nearby establishments. The SLA is expected to approve the application; the question is whether the process will impose any conditions on the operator.

Levy operates food and beverage service in 70% of the NBA arenas, but faces an unusual challenge. “This is probably, in my eyes, the most important business issue that this borough... may be dealing with, certainly in the next year,” commented CB 2 board member John Harrison.

“The issue here that people have been raising is the elephant in the room," he added. "Are the considerations of the greater good, of the economic development of an entity, in your case, Barclays Center, of a borough... going to supersede the individual and collective needs of the area that is is occupying and that it is impacting. And I submit you have to do a much better job of dealing with the issues that have been raised, before we can seriously consider recommending to State Liquor Authority that you be granted a license.”

(I'd add that the issue of economic development is also murky; while sports facilities certainly have an impact in the immediate area, much evidence suggests they are not worth the subsidies and other governmental help.)

Community wariness

The votes reflected the overwhelming sentiment in the room: wariness, even alarm, in reaction to the unusually tight fit for the arena, which was subject to a state override of city zoning that bars sports facilities within 200 feet of residential facilities. The margin for error regarding drunken fans, even loud ones, becomes much lower, many of the 120 people said. And there will be 57 locations where alcohol is served, with 27 of them beer-only, plus an unspecified number of mobile vendors.

Despite some cherry-picked quotes in a pre-meeting coverage (see The Local), and a few at the meeting (see New York Post), the comments/questions from the public, and especially the community board members, were mostly sober efforts to address the challenge.

Some community board members stressed that they had to put aside whatever sentiments they felt toward an arena they had opposed to ensure that the arena could be a good neighbor.

Council Member Letitia James (right) commented, "I don't see how I can be responsible, and stand up and say I am doing my job in the absence of knowing this community will be safe... I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, it's premature... We don't even know, as of today, what precinct will have oversight." She got enthusiastic applause from many but not all of the approximately 100 people there. (Video below from Brownstoner; all other videos from AYR.)

Also see coverage from WNYC and from The Local, which quoted CB 6 member Hildegaard Link: “There will be drinking and driving. How many more dead bicyclists and pedestrians to we need? This is not a joke.”

Arena plans

Representatives of Levy and arena operators AEG, as well as their lawyers, both with long track records in the business, responded to question gamely but were unable to answer certain questions, such as the number of mobile alcohol vendors, or the specific time they'd cut off service at a concert that went late. And while they said they were committed to hiring locally and ensuring the role of Brooklyn-based purveyors, all that remains in process.

They were unwilling to budge on the NBA standard of alcohol cutoff after the third-quarter. And they compared the Brooklyn setting to that of the United Center in Chicago, which is actually surrounding by parking lots.

(That's Julie Margolin, director of operations for food and beverage, at center, with attorney Robert Skene at left.)

They acknowledged they had not yet appointed a Community Affairs staffer but said that, given the possibility that the State Liquor Authority could take a long time to approve this application, it was important to proceed now to ensure that the liquor license was available when the arena opens on September 28.

A few in the audience bristled at the Community Boards' attempts to micromanage, for example recommending--contra Levy's typical practice--that the operator use ID readers, rather than relying on trained staff, to check for fake identifications.

Forest City Ratner sent several representatives to the meeting, including Senior VP Jane Marshall and outside spokesman Joe DePlasco, but they did not speak publicly.

(That's DePlasco at right, with Forest City government relations staffer and community liaison rep Brigitte LaBonte in front of him. Next to DePlasco is lobbyist Julie Greenberg of Kasirer Consulting. No one from Empire State Development was in evidence, nor Lolita Jackson, the city's not-quite-ombudsperson.)

Speaking for the application, with no reservations--and not even a nod to the community concerns in the room--were representatives of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Brooklyn Academy of Music, who read prepared statements.

BAM, which has partnered with the arena and whose board was once chaired by developer Bruce Ratner, has been a steady supporter of the arena, despite the surely mixed feelings of its constituency.

Application "not timely"

Gib Veconi, treasurer of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and a major contributor to the Atlantic Yards Watch initiative, pointed out that this would be the largest licensed premises in Brooklyn and that the application was "not timely."

"If the operators were interested in the support of the community, the way to go about this would have been to meet with community boards and the elected representatives, and negotiate stipulations that warrant the support of the community," he said, adding that instead they were forcing a decision with a  very limited amount of review.

He noted that one of the questions not asked was projected revenue; he suggested that alcohol would represent a significant chunk of the expected $32 million in concession-related revenue.

"The arena has not released a Code of Conduct yet," he said, noting that arena operators had answered questions by saying they hadn't finalized certain policies. "With all respect, the applicants ought to be considering deferring their application... until there is opportunity for informed dialogue."

Assuming the license goes forward, he said it should approved for only a year, with a mandatory re-application to evaluate the impacts of operations, and the one-year license should include stipulations. Among them: a cutoff at halftime of NBA games or 11 pm, whichever comes first. The Community Board committees adopted some but not all of such recommendations; for example, Veconi had unsuccessfully asked that the two-drink maximum per ID be limited to beer servings no greater than 12 ounces.

On Dean Street

Peter Krashes of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and the Dean Street Block Association, observed, "You all get the idea that you're going to be operating the arena in a relatively unique situation... Our neighborhood is going to be integrated into the operational plans of the arena. We have bedrooms facing the street. We have kids who have to go to school the next day and are going to have an arena event happening on a Thursday night... You guys have a special obligation."

(At left is Krashes on residential Dean Street, the straightest path between the arena and the planned interim surface parking lot. Photo by Norman Oder)

He asked Margolin and David Anderson, director of security, for examples in other cities where they have made it work. Secondly, he asked, how does the community keep them accountable, given that, in his opinion, "we've had a lot of problems with accountability leading up to this point... you can say you're going to sell two drinks per ID, but... If people walk down the street, yelling and shouting on Dean Street, how do we hold you two accountable?"

Anderson (right) responded, "The experience I've had as far as dealing with an arena in a neighborhood, I've had a few, one was United Center in Chicago, which was just on the West Side of Chicago. We had the same situation, there's a similar situation, and when I came on board here, I understood everything that you guys were going through here, I've been on the blogs--"

"Don't go on the blogs," Krashes interrupted. "Come and meet us."

"For me, I need to get that, to understand what I'm walking into, to understand your concerns... I've only been here a few months. And my job is to operate this building safely, and also with the concern of the neighborhood. And that's what I've done so far. And what we're looking to do is the same situation that we've been in before, that I've been in before, with the United Center: to try to push people on the main streets, whether it be Flatbush, or Atlantic Avenue... and direct them away from the residential areas. So when people come out of a building, that entrance on [residential] Dean Street, as opposed to them crossing the street... we direct them away from a residential area."

"But they're going to walk to the parking lot," Krashes interjected, indicating a straight shot down residential Dean Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues.

I'd suggest that the United Center is not close to a parallel; it is surrounded by parking lots.  With Atlantic Yards, the parking lot would be one long block east of the arena, in the southeast portion of the site. (The Carlton Avenue Bridge, with the red oval, is closed and under reconstruction; the streets in red are closed.)

The United Center

Eric McClure of NLG found this Google Earth shot of the arena in Chicago:

Concern from Newswalk

The Newswalk condo development, ten stories and 171 units, is the largest residential building between the arena and the parking lot. Wayne Bailey, a VP of the Newswalk board, pointed out that the building is just 200 feet from the arena.

"We have great concerns about how much liquor, and how it's served, and how people are treated after the event," he said. "When you walk out, from that arena, between Sixth and Carlton, you're in a captive area."

There's "no escape," he said, "except for the four doors into our building." The building, he said, had been told its security is inadequate, given the crowds from the arena. Like several other speakers, he recommended that the liquor license be granted for one year, and then re-assessed after that.

More discussion

How many mobile beer hawkers would there be? It's "specific to our license," Margolin responded. "It would be our operational determination."

A colleague answered: one hawker for every 200-300 people, though that includes hawkers of various items, not merely alcohol.

They were asked about any pattern of violations at Levy operations. "There are no violations at the USTA [tennis center in Queens]," commented Skene. "I'm not saying they're perfect, but there's nothing glaringly wrong."

"If you were to file it tomorrow, would you be willing to say there are no violations pending?" he was asked.

"We would indicate that in our application," he responded.

The opening

Skene opened the meeting by offering an overview of the application and of the company, which has over 85 licenses in arenas, conference centers, and other large venues. He offered specific details on each level, including the number of points of sale.

At about 7 minutes into the video, he said, "The client intends to comply with NBA policy, which is no service at the beginning of the fourth quarter... For concerts and other family events, there will be a cutoff time before the end of the event, but that particular time is going to be deemed appropriate for each event."

He said the emphasis in the arena would be more on food than alcohol, given the opportunity to buy a ticket with unlimited consumption of food and non-alcoholic beverages.

He added that Margolin had moved to Brooklyn, a half-mile from the arena.

Levy is different compared to a lot of catering companies, he said, because all Levy employees are trained as servers, and will receive alcohol beverage training.

There will be a standard maximum two alcoholic beverages per ID, and all people appearing under the age of 30 who buy alcohol will be carded. Anyone appearing under 21 can be carded.

If anybody is apparently intoxicated, security personnel will be contacted, and then police will be contacted "as appropriate."

Before any event, there will be pre-event planning, he said, to ensure "safe and responsible alcohol beverage service."

Is Brooklyn unique"

"I think a lot of people in this room consider Brooklyn a pretty unique place," a Community Board member asked. "What do you think would need to be done differently, to give the community the confidence it needs...?"

Margolin answered in a friendly but non-specific manner, saying that Levy takes the responsibility to manage alcohol sales "extremely seriously" and the company wanted to ensure that "Brooklyn is taken just as seriously" as any other venue.

Security plan

What precautions are in place to prevent against intoxicated patrons?

AEG security official Bob Sena said that they will be hiring off-duty New York Police Department officers, who will initially work inside the arena, but toward the end of the event, they will be redeployed on the outside, working closely with police officers.

Intoxicated people also can be stopped from entering the building.

The applicants were asked about the use of machine readers for identifications, given the problem of fake IDs. "The readers are really kind of critical," one board member suggested.

"Quite frankly, part of our policy is really that we don't use the automatic as the formal check," Margolin said, saying that the "eye contact" and check by a staffer is more important than paying attention to the reader.

Given the spate of bars in the area, will there be a coordinated education program? Margolin said it was a good idea to take under advisement.

NYPD Inspector Terrence Riley said the department has and can deploy a "cabaret team" to address such issues, but first has to resolve preliminary issues regarding how the arena will be policed.

When are liquor sales cut off for other events? Anderson said that the cut-off time is generally an hour before a concert ends, a statement that unnerved a few people, who suggested that some concerts could go very late.

More questions

"Generally, most concerts end by 11 or 11:30," Anderson insisted.

"And given the nature of the Nets, we're not expecting too much overtime," one community board member said.

Anderson said he had shut down liquor service early if a crowd seemed unruly.

What about an absolute 11 pm cutoff of liquor sales?

"We don't know what kind of events" there would be, Skene said, suggesting that a religious event--perhaps a Hasidic wedding?--might go late.

What are the rules for the NHL, given that there will be an exhibition hockey game and perhaps a move by the Islanders.

There are three 20-minute periods in hockey. Margolin said the NHL guidelines were "12 minutes prior to the end of the third period," which presumes some stoppage in the game. She sued the term "guidelines" rather than rules, which suggests some flex.

Harrison expressed some skepticism about the failure to use ID readers: "There is a very sophisticated market, underground, that makes IDs, every day of the week."

Some measurable percentage of events will be frequented by individuals under 30 who might be rowdy, he said, urging efforts to mitigate the potential for problems.