Bill Aims to Preserve & Revive Historic Watering Holes like Eagle Tavern in Trenton
By a vote of 64-5-3, the full Assembly on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora, Tim Eustace, Jamel Holley and Elizabeth Maher Muoio allowing municipalities to issue retail liquor licenses to qualified buyers looking to redevelop historic taverns into 21st century drinking and eating establishments.
Gusciora introduced the bill in hopes of facilitating redevelopment of the abandoned Eagle Tavern on South Broad Street in Trenton, which has sat vacant for decades after several failed attempts to operate the building as a restaurant. Built as a private home in 1765, it was enlarged for use as a tavern in the early nineteenth century and was frequented by patrons of the nearby Eagle raceway. It served as the political center for the city’s South Ward, and was a meeting place of the Masons.
“One of Trenton’s biggest strengths is its history,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “The Eagle Tavern is one of the city’s oldest buildings and served as a popular place for residents to socialize and for politicians to meet. Unfortunately, no developer is willing to undertake the costs associated with the property’s redevelopment because of liquor license limitations in the city. This could help bring back a building that is historically important to our city and our state, provide the city with much needed revenue and further the momentum slowly brewing on South Broad Street.”
The bill (A-2069) would allow a municipality to issue a retail liquor license to sell alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption to the highest qualified bidder of an abandoned historic tavern.
“These buildings functioned as taverns at some point. It would be great to see them come alive as social gathering places again,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Instead of letting them languish in blight, this bill can help renew interest in these properties from developers, which could provide revenue for municipalities and provide residents with an outing option uniquely steeped in history.”
The bill defines a historic tavern as a building built before 1920 that is included in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places, and where the sale and service of alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption was the primary business prior to 1920. The provisions of the bill would apply to taverns that were in operation prior to the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which commenced the country’s Prohibition era.
“When it comes to redeveloping these old, historic properties, sometimes it’s easier said than done. In some cases the cost of a liquor license may be far too prohibitive and, in other cases, there simply may not be any more available licenses,” said Holley (D-Union). “This bill would cut through all that while helping to preserve history, boost local tax bases and revitalize neighborhoods.”
“Given New Jersey’s colonial roots, many towns, like Trenton, have historic taverns that have unfortunately sat dormant for years because of a lack of available liquor licenses,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This bill would incentivize redevelopers to preserve history while turning these abandoned properties back into productive, tax-generating real estate again.”
The bill prohibits the holder of the retail license from transferring the license for use in connection with another premises. A license issued under this bill is not subject to the population limitations that restrict a municipality from issuing more than one plenary retail consumption license for each 3,000 people residing in that municipality.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.