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Closing times in Springfield to remain unsettled until January

Date: 8/13/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Domenic Sarno's request for the Board of License Commissioners to roll back alcohol sales to 1 a.m. across the city won't be addressed until next year.

The Board of License Commissioners voted 4-1 to conduct a hearing on the matter on Jan. 31, 2013.

At that meeting, they will have a number of options before them. They could change the time to 1 a.m., as Sarno asked, or they can deny it. They could make a new time effective immediately or they can set a date for a roll back six months or a year later.

Stephen Reilly, counsel to the board, said state law gives the municipality much leeway.

The board could also do something similar to what Northampton has done: set a 1 a.m. closing time and then grant extensions to 2 a.m. to establishments.

Sarno's reasoning, expressed in a letter to the board sent last month, is a new closing time would strengthen the progress made on decreasing crime statistics by ending entertainment at bars and clubs at 1 a.m.

He wrote, "The new [entertainment] regulations were effective April 6, 2012. The regulations have had a positive effect on various crime statistics in the downtown entertainment district since the implementation of the regulations. Specifically, a comparison of the time period from April 6, 2011 to May 6, 2011 (when the Special Late Night Permit was not in effect) and the same period for 2012 (after it went into effect) indicates a 22 percent decrease in the total number of calls for service by the Springfield Police Department in the Stearns Square area between Worthington Street and Bridge Street within the heart of the entertainment district; 401 versus 314. In addition, the overtime costs to the Police Department for that same area have gone down 10 percent from $16,136 down to $14,574."

Commissioners Raymond Berry and Orlando Ramos both expressed concerns that the one-month's worth of information on the reduction of crime in the Entertainment District wasn't sufficient enough to consider Sarno's proposal. By having the hearing in January, the board can request crime statistics for a longer period, which can be compared to the information from the previous year.

Board Chair Peter Sygnator noted that annual renewals of liquor licenses must be completed by Nov. 30 and those licenses would carry a 2 a.m. closing time.

Commissioner Robert Casey voted against having a hearing and asked, "Is it fair for downtown statistics to determined the licenses for all licensees?"

He added the mayor's new request is "philosophically exactly the same" as his change to the entertainment license issue.

Casey said he would want to hear what the effect of a 1 a.m. closing would have on the city's convention business and a possible casino.

Sygnator said he believed the alcohol license would be determined and granted to any casino by the state directly and not by local boards.

The discussion at the board's meeting was informational and there were no comments allowed from the attendees.


The board also took action in approving a change in manager for the Stonewall Tavern, the small bar that is built into the railroad overpass on Main Street.

The Corporation at 1716 Inc., which includes The New England Farm Workers' Council Inc., which purchased the adjacent Paramount Theater block, has a purchase and sale agreement to buy the business and a lease on the property, which is owned by Amtrak, contingeant upon approval of the board's action by the Alcohol Beverage Comntrol Commission in Boston.

New England Farmworkers' President Heriberto Flores explained the historic bar — one of the oldest in the city — would be closed for three to four months for alterations. He said it might be made into a private club upon re-opening.

Flores doesn't consider the 14-stool bar to have much potential as a money-maker, but said that since his organization bought the Paramount and announced it was undertaking a $36 million renovation to that building it "doesn't make much sense" not to improve the Stonewall Tavern as well.