September 25 2018

Town Meeting Approves Petition for 9 Liquor Licenses for Burlington Mall

By: Rich Hosford

A project to redesign and renovate the former Sears location at the Burlington got one step closer to becoming a reality on Monday night.


After a long discussion Town Meeting voted overwhelming to approve a Home Rule Petition for nine new liquor licenses, five all-alcohol and four beer/wine licenses, that will be site-specific to the Burlington Mall. The request must now go to the state legislature for approval.


During the meeting Jonathan Murphy, Executive Vice President of Leasing for Simon Properties Group, explained why he believed the Burlington Mall needed nine new licenses. He said the entire first floor of the former Sears building was being transformed into an extension of the mall corridor and that the former Sears Tire and Automotive building has been torn down and will be a mixed-use site. A big part of the plan is to bring in numerous family-friendly restaurants.


“When I look at what should come next I see that compared to successful malls across the country we have too many department store space and not enough restaurants,” he said. “The malls of the future aren’t going to look like they did 10 years ago or how they look today. They will be much less dominated by retail and apparel and will feature more mixed-use. There will be a lot more food and entertainment options, things that make you want to go there and spend time there.”


Murphy added that more restaurants would create greater revenue at the mall and lead to an increase of intake of the meals tax for Burlington’s coffers.


“When Sears left they were doing $12 million per year and we think the restaurants alone will do $60 million,” he said. “That would mean an additional $450,000 annually in meals tax for the town.”


Finally, Murphy argued that while the Burlington Mall is ranked at the top for New England malls it has one of the lowest “dwell times”, or how long on average people stay on the property, in the area.


“Burlington Mall has the lowest dwell time in our portfolio,” he said. “If we can get that dwell time up from one hour to two hours, where it should be, that’s optimal for us.”


There were concerns raised about the number of liquor licenses being asked for. In a meeting before Town Meeting the Burlington Board of Selectmen voted two in favor of the proposal and three against. Those who voted against said they thought nine was too many and asked that Simon Properties lower the amount. During Town Meeting an amendment was put forward lowering the amount of licenses to a total of five.


One argument was that the mall already has liquor licenses on hand. There are currently three restaurants with all-alcohol licenses and one store with a beer/wine license. Additionally, in 2013 the town did a Home Rule Petition and acquired three site-specific all-alcohol licenses for the mall. There are also two restaurants, Uno’s Pizzeria and Besitos, that recently closed and their licenses are up for grabs.


Murphy argued that the number being requested is the number needed for the project to be a success. He said that in order to move forward the mall needs to fill up at least 50 percent of the planned new spaces and that could only be achieved at this time with a high number of restaurants and restaurant owners want to have licenses to serve.


“If we could go with five and go forward with the project, we would,” he said. “Restaurants are the riskiest type of investments and if there were an alternative to go with, we would. But we won’t get the spaces leased within the next two years or so without them and so the building will sit where it is.”


Murphy also pointed to other large malls and said that right now the Burlington Mall has far fewer licenses than the average. Market Street in Lynnfield, for example, has 16 licenses.


In the end the town’s legislative body voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal and send the request for additional licenses to the state.


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