DIA, City Council asking for liquor license changes for Northbank, Kings Ave.

DIA, City Council asking for liquor license changes for Northbank, Kings Ave.
The owners of the Bearded Pig are asking the state to lower the minimum seating standard to obtain a liquor license from 150 to 50.

The Jacksonville City Council is asking the Duval Delegation for legislation to reduce the number of seats and space required for a liquor license around King Street and more parts of Downtown Jacksonville.

The request, known as a J bill, would lower the requirements to apply for a liquor license to at least 50 seats and 1,000 square feet of service space in the downtown area known as the Northside West and Northside East Area Zones. There are several such zones around the city including San Marco and Riverside that allow modifications to requirements for a liquor license to help spur economic growth. The downtown zones were first established in 1987 and set current requirements at 100 seats and 1,800 square feet.

Typically, the state will only grant a liquor license to an establishment with 150 seats and a 2,500 square feet service area.

The Downtown Investment Authority requested the legislation. Executive Director Lori Boyer said much of the available space on the Northbank are in existing buildings but in spaces too small to currently obtain a liquor license. She said it has become an even greater challenge since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The real idea from our standpoint and why we were interested in it, particularly on the northbank is because most of those are existing buildings and the space size is limited,” she said. “The problem is what you did pre-COVID in order to meet the 100 seats is you crammed a bunch of people in at the bar and smashed the tables really close together and people are no longer comfortable in that environment.”

The change was suggested by longtime restaurant owner and Executive Director of Build Up Downtown Allan DeVault.

He said the empty storefronts of the northbank would be great locations for small restaurants and microbreweries.

The J-bill also asks to establish a new Kings Avenue Commercial Corridor to allow another exemption allowing the 50 seat, 1,000 square-foot minimums.

Bearded Pig co-owner Michael Schmidt said Kings Avenue was forgotten when the San Marco overlay was established but now that the road improvements to Kings are completed, the corridor is ready for more commercial development. But Schmidt said, like across the river, most of the available space is too small to meet the normal state requirements.  He says lowering the standard could lead to a line of small specialty restaurants along Kings Ave.

“It gives the opportunity for a smaller footprint, less staff, fewer seats and it’s easier to manage,” Schmidt said. ”There’s a collection of buildings around here that really could hold these small-scale restaurants.”

Schmidt said that would lead to job growth on Kings Ave. as hundreds of people could be hired.

State Representative Wyman Duggan is the sponsor of the bill in Tallahassee. If it’s approved by the entire Duval Delegation later this year, it will be introduced to the full legislature when the new session begins in January.

There have been suggestions that the 50-seat minimum be expanded to include all of Jacksonville’s special zones to keep it uniform across town but it’s too late to file such legislation for the upcoming legislative session so it would have to wait until next year.

By Kevin J. Meerschaert
Resident Community News

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