Brunswick council OKs beer, wine at restaurant festival

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BRUNSWICK — A new festival attempting to entice visitors to sample the town’s culinary offerings could also offer alcoholic beverages after a vote by the Town Council on Monday.

The event, called the Taste of Brunswick, was unanimously approved by the council to be held June 20 at The Mall on Maine Street. In a second vote, the council voted 7-1 to allow beer and wine to be served at the festival. 

Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry opposed allowing alcohol, saying she
worries it will set a bad precedent for future applicants hoping to hold
events at Brunswick’s primary outdoor gathering area.

Councilor Margo Knight abstained from both votes because her husband
serves on the Brunswick Downtown Association, which is co-sponsoring
the festival.

BDA Vice President Dave Nadeau acknowledged that allowing alcohol may give some councilors pause, but he said spirits would be ancillary to the festival. Nadeau said the goal is to give patrons a sampling of Brunswick’s fine dining, which for many, means pairing food with wine or beer. 

“The focus is for this to be a family-oriented event,” Nadeau said, adding that the Taste of Brunswick hopes to feature 20 restaurants and several bands.  

Nadeau said alcohol consumption would be confined to a fenced area. The restaurants will be required to show proof of their liquor licenses, which also means they will be responsible for limiting customers’ consumption.

“Ultimately, it’s their license that will be on the line,” Nadeau said. 

The BDA is also planning to hire a police officer for the festival. 

Some councilors were also reassured that Police Chief Richard Rizzo had no objections to the event. 

One resident spoke against allowing alcohol. 

Vice Chairman Benet Pols countered Daughtry’s concern that allowing alcohol on The Mall would set a precedent. “I really can’t see anyone using this decision to force us to (grant) another (liquor license),” he said. 

The state Liquor Licensing and Compliance Division will have the final say on the issue.

The alcohol factor appeared to be the only potential obstacle for the new festival, which some councilors said is a perfect way to support local business during a poor economy. Organizers hope to lure 500 visitors and use the event to market local restaurants. 

Councilor Joanne King said supporting the event is a chance for the council to put deeds behind previous councilors’ calls to prop up the local economy.

“I’ve often heard from members of this council that we should be actively endorsing and supporting our downtown,” King said. “Tonight could be one of those opportunities to show that we’re actually doing that.”

Jennifer Banis, owner of 111 Maine Street, said local restaurants have been trying to organize a similar event for years. She added that the 2011 closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station gives the proposal a new sense of urgency.

“We’re the ones on the front lines of base transition,” Banis said.

The Taste of Brunswick discussion dovetailed into another council discussion about economic development priorities for remainder of the year. The list was co-sponsored by King and Councilor Debbie Atwood, whose overriding message was the need to bridge ideological divides on the council for the sake of economic development. 

Among the priorities were support for existing businesses and the $23 million Maine Street Station project, and attraction of new businesses.

King said the goals are important because they will help avoid drawn-out debates over projects councilors won’t back.

“I think it’ll be a lot less frustrating for the staff, the Planning Board and those trying to bring businesses here if they know right up front what businesses we’ll support,” King said.

The priorities were requested by the Brunswick Economic Development Corp., which sought direction from the council. Last year the BEDC was at the center of a contentious council split on the direction of economic development. Some councilors and residents accused the organization of only pushing development projects that benefited its membership.

Several members of the BEDC attended Monday’s council meeting. BEDC member Steve Weems reiterated the organization’s call for a regional business park, which he said, was critical to helping Brunswick survive the base closure transition.

“The base is five, maybe 10 years off before it becomes a business park,” Weems said. 

BEDC member John Gerard added that the council should also develop a list of existing infill sites that could be used for businesses interested in moving to Brunswick.

The council tabled the adoption of the goals until its April 6 meeting.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or