BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Selectmen gave a six-month extension last night to the holder of a Route 1 liquor license so he could transfer it to a national restaurant chain called Bonefish Grill.
The license holder never built the sports bar for which he'd obtained the license, making the proposed transfer a somewhat contentious issue.
Bonefish Grill, in turn, is looking to build a new restaurant in the parking lot of the Burlington Coat Factory on Route 114.
During a public hearing last night, representatives of Steven Tedesco of Peabody laid out the case for why the board should grant an extension, blunting some selectmen’s concerns that it appeared he had pocketed the license only to flip it to another buyer. No one on the board openly suggested Tedesco did that, and Selectman Diane Langlais said Tedesco was in compliance with town guidelines for liquor license transfers.
“Mr. Tedesco is not some sort of carpetbagger who came into town to speculate,” said Tedesco’s attorney, Paul Crochiere, who described him as an established business owner whose Danvers commercial building represented a $2.5 million development generating $33,000 a year in real estate taxes.
Crochiere said he wanted to “dispel any notion that this was a quick speculation scheme.”
After getting the liquor license from the town in June 2012, Tedesco faced multiple delays in the approval process from the state Alcoholic Control Beverages Commission, as he sought to develop a new restaurant at his commercial building at 100 Newbury St., which also includes his marble and granite business, Crochiere said.
Tedesco had acquired a liquor license, which has been in limbo for nearly four years after a former Japanese steakhouse on Route 1 closed, selectmen said.
During the delay in the state liquor-license approval process, Tedesco found that estimates for the build-out of his restaurant had increased, and plans to double the size of the restaurant also slowed things. He put the project on hold until it was approved this spring. Then, a liquor-license broker approached Tedesco earlier this year, Crochiere said. Tedesco initially said, “no,” to selling the license before inking a purchase and sale agreement last month.
Selectmen Bill Clark and Dan Bennett both wanted to give Tedesco a shorter window of time to transfer the license to Bonefish Grill because the license had languished so long unused, generating no meals tax revenue in the meantime.
After some reluctance on Selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask’s part to let him speak because there was no application before the board, the attorney for Bonefish Grill, Lynn attorney Thomas Demakis, outlined the complicated scenario under which the chain would build a restaurant.
Plans are to build a 5,200-square-foot restaurant on the Danvers side of the parking lot of Burlington Coat Factory, on the Danvers/Peabody line at 310 Andover St. in Peabody, Demakis said.
The problem is that Bonefish Grill representatives are in negotiations with a third party to obtain more parking at this proposed location. Demakis said the liquor license application is ready to file but for the lack of a signed lease.
As a sign that Bonefish Grill is “dead serious” about obtaining Tedesco’s liquor license, the chain gave Tedesco a “nonrefundable deposit,” though Demakis did not say how much. The price of the transfer was also not announced last night.
The liquor-license broker who first broached the idea of Tedesco selling the license to Bonefish, Daniel Newcomb of Atlantic License Brokers, told selectmen that Tedesco was sincere in his attempts to build a restaurant and that he would swear under oath that Tedesco did not hold a pocket license.
Newcomb said he had developed a list of liquor licenses in town with Town Clerk Joseph Collins, who indicated that Tedesco was a new liquor license holder in the process of developing a new restaurant. Newcomb said he only called Tedesco after running through the list. Tedesco at first told him he was not interested in selling. Newcomb said Bonefish Grill investigated whether Tedesco’s building would work as one of its restaurants and found it would not. Newcomb then made Tedesco an offer he could not refuse.
Trask said he had a problem with a business being able to transfer a liquor license from one location to another for large sums of cash, considering that liquor licenses are a town asset that he said are rented from year to year. Langlais, an accountant by profession, insisted that liquor licenses are business assets that count.
Selectmen eventually voted 5-0 to extend Tedesco’s license for six months to give the deal more time. Trask said last night he would not favor giving another extension to Tedesco.
Bonefish Grill is a division of Tampa, Fla.-based Bloomin’ Brands, which also operates Carrabba’s and Outback Steakhouse, which has a location at 300 Andover St. in Peabody.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.