LONGMEADOW, MA – A prime piece of property that has sat vacant for nearly two years is undergoing renovations, making way for a potential new restaurant. Jeannette Norman, a Longmeadow resident and co-founder of JLL Realty Advisors, has agreed to lease terms for the former Huke Lau space on Williams Street. She is constructing a new 168-seat eatery called The Republic, slated for a spring 2018 opening.
JLL Realty Advisors already owns three restaurants – Commonwealth Kitchen and Craft Bar in Enfield, CT, the Copper House Tavern in Somers, CT, and the Backyard Bar & Grill in West Springfield.
During a recent meeting of the Select Board, Norman shared that they intend to invest seven figures in the new restaurant, having already gutted the building so all that remains is an empty shell. They are reconfiguring the space, adding an outdoor patio as well as a private dining room for special events.
Norman and her attorney, Daniel Kelly, met with the Select Board on Sept. 18 seeking a liquor license for The Republic. However, several members of the Select Board, as well as Town Manager Stephen Crane, expressed concern about the timing of the request, noting that it is very early in the process.
“The application seems premature given that there has been no inspection by the building or fire departments yet,” said Select Board member Mark Gold. “We understand that these inspections can’t happen yet, because the building is just a shell.”
Gold also noted that three different names have been given for the restaurant on various applications, including the actual lease to the property.
“Until all this stuff meshes, (we need to wait on the liquor license application),” said Gold. “I know it sounds bureaucratic, but following the process is what a liquor license is all about.”
Crane agreed that the Select Board is not accustomed to receiving a liquor license application so early in the construction process, pointing out potential issues related to parking at the site that have not yet been addressed. He said the applicant may need to seek a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) as the location does not, and has not, met the minimum standards for the town’s parking formula, which determines the number of spots needed for a business based on square footage.
“When something has been vacant for a year, it loses its (former) use under our bylaws,” said Crane. “You may need a variance from the ZBA. I’d want to see that variance in place before we go forward with a liquor license.”
Kelly stated that while he understands that their request for a liquor license has been made early in the process, they wanted to make sure they were able to secure the license before investing more money into the property.
While Select Board members noted some areas that still need clarification, several cited their support for Norman and her efforts to open a new restaurant in town.
“I think these are all issues we can work out,” said Select Board member Marie Angelides. “This is a huge investment you are making in the town, and I understand why you want to be sure this board is going to grant a liquor license before this type of investment is made. I think it’s a wonderful project to bring to town. We appreciate it. We (the Select Board) should work with them to get this business going.”
The Select Board continued the liquor license hearing without a vote, asking Norman and Kelly to come back after ensuring that the square footage from the patio is included in the license request, that the name on the lease and the name on the liquor license application match, that issues related to the property’s address have been worked out with the landlord, and they have a determination from the ZBA related to parking.
Norman and Kelly said they would address those issues, and seek an audience at an upcoming Select Board meeting to revisit the liquor license application. Norman said she appreciates positive comments made by the board related to the new restaurant.
“My family lives in this town,” she said. “My son goes to Longmeadow Public Schools, so my reputation means a lot in this town. We are going to spend an exorbitant amount of money, investing in the town where we live. This will be our fourth restaurant, so we are certainly not new to the business. We just want to make it a really nice place for the town to enjoy, where families can come to eat. We want this to be a place we’d all be proud of. Right now, it’s an eyesore.”
– Article by Sarah Leete Tsitso.