By John Castelluccio
---- — PEABODY — City officials hope a handful of new restaurant liquor licenses will gin up some more nightlife and excitement downtown, and they’ve identified five sites they’d like to see get licenses by special legislation.
First, there’s the O’Shea Building at 9 Main St., where a four-star restaurant and boutique hotel are planned, and a vacant plot at 166 Main St. is slated for a retail development with condos above. The other three sites are 88 Main St., next to the library, that has offices on the ground floor and apartments above; the Foster Street municipal parking lot and the former Pioneer House at 2 Washington St.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt described the properties as “spots of high interest” with potential for redevelopment, although not all of them are part of definite proposals.
For example, a liquor license makes the vacant Washington Street property more appealing to an investor, Bettencourt said. Before it was the Pioneer House, it was Bettencourt Furniture Store — no relation to the mayor — and is currently listed for sale or lease.
There is a plan for the city’s Foster Street lot, which is part of a grander transformation of Peabody Square. Bettencourt wants a license in hand when he puts out a request for bids later this spring to build a multistory parking garage with commercial space and condos. The City Council would have to approve the bid document first.
Bettencourt said he knows Bandar Development & Builders is interested in the site as a companion project to the hotel at the O’Shea Building. Bandar floated a preliminary proposal to the city months ago for a $10 million project that included a parking garage with a restaurant out front and 60 condos above. There is no commitment to that plan, and Bandar would have to submit a bid after the RFP is approved. Bettencourt said he wants to see other proposals, too.
As for the hotel, Bandar applied for an available liquor license from the city earlier this year, but the Licensing Board went with Mike & Lil’s Black Sheep Pub at 5 Central St. instead because the new pub would open at least a year before the hotel would be finished.
The new liquor licenses in question would be created by special legislation, and the city is asking for 10 total. A home rule petition is before state lawmakers for five licenses at Northshore Mall and five for the downtown. A joint committee forwarded the petition for approval to the full House and Senate last week. One-time fees of $5,000 and special restrictions would be attached to the licenses, prohibiting license holders from quickly selling the licenses for large profits.
Bettencourt believes the new licenses will attract small-business owners downtown who can’t afford the high prices usually seen in private sales. Combined with renovation costs and other startup expenses, a new ethnic eatery may be near impossible to finance for a budding restaurateur, he said.
“They can’t afford to pay $205,000 like Trader Joe’s or $150,000 like P.F. Chang’s for a license,” he said, adding that the downtown needs more places like Petrillo’s, Sugar Cane and Maki Sushi. The sushi bar and grill was granted a new license from the city in 2011, and business blossomed.
“This is another piece of the puzzle to restoring vitality to the downtown,” Bettencourt said.
You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.