Market Basket could be a liquor license holder at Rock Row under a new state law that allows more agency liquor stores in Westbrook. Chance Viles/ American Journal

WESTBROOK— A new liquor law touted by the Westbrook Economic Development Director will create outdoor districts where people will be allowed to consume alcohol – a major step, he says, in the development of Rock Row.

Dan Stevenson and his team lobbied the Legislature to get the bill passed and signed by Gov. Janet Mills on June 13, in a move to create what they envision as the full “Rock Row experience” – as well as a major change for the entire state. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Cumberland County, who represents Westbrook and part of Portland in Senate District 28.

To sweeten the deal, Stevenson said, he also pushed for the passage of a bill that will increase the number of liquor licenses by two in Westbrook from five to seven.

The new law will allow areas where the public can consume alcoholic beverages in a designated entertainment district. The idea is to create the districts through local ordinances in areas with a lot of retail and restaurants, such as Rock Row, allowing patrons to walk around outside with their drinks without violating state law.

“We have had a lot of interest from restaurants in coming in, and since this was passed, that interest has increased two-fold,” Josh Levy said, Waterstone co-owner and principal.

As the law is written, entertainment districts could be put up all over the city – including downtown – although the plan is to focus the entertainment district in Rock Row specifically.

“It is amazing to get this passed. People would be surprised about what you can get done as long as it makes sense, and this makes sense in what is going to be our largest mixed-use development here in the state of Maine,” Stevenson said.

The new law gives cities and towns the power to create the entertainment district and allow public consumption of alcohol through an ordinance, which would have to go through the local government, such as a city council or a select board.

“We drafted it so it was mostly under local control. … The city or town decides where the district is, its size, all of that,” Stevenson said.

The law does not include a cap on the number of entertainment districts a given municipality or the state can have and has no real cap on the size of the district. Previously, the state did not have any law allowing public consumption of alcohol.

“The major concern the state had was with cross-pollination of alcohol; they don’t want you getting a drink at one place and taking it to another bar,” Stevenson said.

“The thing is, the businesses don’t want that either. … There would be security; it is not in their interest to have drunk people walking around either,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant added during an interview with Bryant and Stevenson last week.

If a shopper gets a drink at a restaurant, they would be able to have their drink poured into a specific Rock Row plastic cup to take with them outside to either a common seating area or to stores.

“This bill brings Maine into the 21st century with respect to tourism and visitors’ experiential expectations. Access to shops, food, entertainment and arts and culture play a significant role in tourism throughout the state of Maine,” Stevenson said in his testimony supporting the bill.
“How people spend hard-earned, precious dollars has changed. Many people purchase goods online,” Stevenson said in his missive to legislators. “Therefore, for Maine to be competitive in the marketplace we need strategic investment and policies to lead the market in economic development, especially as it relates to tourism.”

The full vision of Rock Row will allow people to drink in public spaces outside, including a beer hall being proposed, as well as retail stores that allow all beverages. Patrons would not necessarily be able to bring alcoholic drinks from one bar to another, or into a store that doesn’t allow drinks at all.

“This is kind of the golden standard for leasing like this, and it adds a lot of sizzle in bringing developers out here as we gear up to really work on Rock Row and make that restaurant row,” portion,” Stevenson said.

The bill to increase the number of liquor licenses allowed was sponsored by state Rep. Craig Hickman, D- Winthrop and will also increase the number of agency liquor licenses in 11 Maine communities with between 10,001 and 20,0001 residents from five to seven, as well. The bill will also take effect this September.

The bill aimed to address outdated liquor laws that cap licenses based on population, a formula that was not looking at how a community may be growing in respect to both businesses and population, according to Stevenson.

“This creates a level playing field with distribution of agency liquor store licenses, while supporting responsible, increased revenues in our local and regional economies,” Stevenson said.

The new licenses would only apply to supermarkets, gas stations and other agency liquor stores and possibly new liquor stores. Restaurants and bars are not subject to the same licensing.

“Market Basket has heavy interest in getting a license, which is how that ties into our project,” Levy said.

Stevenson acknowledged that developing Rock Row to this point is a few years out, with the Maine Savings Pavillion the only structure at the location, and Market Basket slated for completion come March.

Still, Stevenson said, the passage of both bills is huge in bringing in businesses from around the country.

“There is nothing like this (Rock Row) in the state. … And this law (entertainment districts) affects everyone in Maine,” Stevenson said. “At full build-out Rock Row will be nearly 2 million square feet with over $200 million in investment and the creation of 3,000 jobs. … It is estimated that Rock Row will have 6 million visitors annually from our immediate and expanded trade areas trade area of 30 minutes and four-hour drive times.”





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