TOMS RIVER-After a day at the office in downtown Toms River, many people want to just get out and go out. Unfortunately, except for one restaurant with a liquor license, there’s really not much to do downtown, so they go elsewhere.
Trying to mimic successful downtown centers like Freehold and Red Bank, the Township of Toms River proposed building over 1,000 hi-rise, high-density apartments on land owned by the township. Those projects are in the works, but one councilman disagrees and says the answer to revitalizing downtown Toms River has to start with restaurants and liquor licenses.
Daniel Rodrick, a Republican councilman who ran unsuccessfully to get the endorsement for mayor by the party this June said the town needs to focus on bringing more entertainment downtown…and the people will follow.
The problem is, New Jersey’s liquor license laws will make that task next to impossible.
“I believe their success is directly related to the concentration of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. That concentration draws in people from near and far,” Rodrick said. “My wife and I were up in Belmar for dinner a few nights ago and I couldn’t help but notice the massive amount of foot traffic. As I watched people come and go, it got me thinking about what makes places like Belmar and Redbank so successful – and can we replicate that in Downtown Toms River?”
Rodrick said a robust restaurant, bar and nightlife scene, akin to that of Red Bank, Freehold and Belmar will draw people to the sleepy downtown center that right now boasts little more than banks, law offices, and government facilities.
“Unfortunately, as you are all well aware, the number of liquor licenses in the state is directly tied to the number of residents in a community; one license per 3,000 residents. Licenses are rarely available and as a result, a secondary market has developed,” Rodrick said. “The average cost of a liquor license in New Jersey is now $350,000 dollars – and a license recently sold in up in Short Hills for over $1.2 Million. This makes it impossible for startups because they don’t have the capital.”
Recognizing it is an impediment economic growth and downtown redevelopment across the state, some folks in Trenton have tried to reform the system. But lobby groups fight reform tooth and nail because they recognize issuing more licenses will increase competition and devalue the resale of their licenses, he added.
Rodrick is calling upon state legislative leaders to explore the possibility of places like Downtown Toms River to be able to get liquor licenses through a pilot program he is pushing Trenton for that would allow in-place liquor licenses to venues within a downtown revitalization project zone. Those licenses would be non-transferrable and can never leave the zone, he said.
“I’ve reached out to Senate President Steve Sweeney and Minority Leader John Bramnick to share my ideas – and it is my hope that they will be receptive,” Rodrick said.
Until then, the township will continue its path to build hi-rise apartments upon lots owned by the town and even by grazing the post office and building apartments there too. Rodrick said he supports the downtown redevelopment but without a nightlife scene and restaurants with liquor licenses, he’s worried that all of the apartments will bring more people than entertainment opportunities that would exist to keep them downtown after work or on weekends.
Towns like Red Bank and Freehold now boast a very vibrant restaurant and bar scene that attracts thousands of people each day to walk the shops, grab a bite and down a couple of drinks after work.