Proponents and opponents of a proposed Starbucks at L Street and Broadway are painting the now empty space in Michael Norton's building as the cornerstone of the neighborhood's future.
At a Boston Licensing Board hearing this morning, though, they described very different futures for City Point, the part of South Boston that has yet to see the tsunami of development and chains that has overtaken the neighborhood west of Dorchester Street.
Proponents say the store will give residents - and local businesses - a place to gather after 4 p.m. without the presence of alcohol. William Higgins, who said he's "spent my life on L Street" said the Starbucks could be the catalyst for a revitalization of a dead commercial area and turn it into the next version of Beacon Hill's Charles Street.
They were joined by City Councilor Bill Linehan - who supported the request the last time around - and Councilor Michael Flaherty, who sent an aide to say he had changed his mind because of an overwhelming flood of pro-Starbucks e-mails and notes.
Opponents say the area already has enough coffee shops and that all Starbucks will do is raise local rents and drive locally owned stores out of business. "It will absolutely ruin the character of the neighborhood," said Charles McCarthy Jr., attorney for Joseph's Bakery on K Street. And where Higgins cited Charles Street, McCarthy cited Hanover Street, on which he said long-running mom-and-pop outlets are being forced out by rapidly rising rents.
Opponents still had the backing of Mayor Walsh, who sent an aide to say the chain had failed to prove it had satisfied neighborhood concerns about trash and traffic.
City Councilor Michelle Wu and state Sen. Linda Dorcena-Forry, who had previously opposed the license request, did not send reps to today's Boston Licensing Board hearing.
The licensing board rejected Starbucks's license request in May based on the issue of overcaffeineation of the neighborhood as well as traffic and trash concerns. It decides Thursday whether to overturn that decision and grant the Seattle-based chain a food-serving license.
Starbucks's attorney, Curt Bletzer, said that Starbucks doesn't hurt neighboring coffee shops - it helps them, because not everybody who tries Starbucks likes it. He cited a Harvard study in claming that "research shows that other businesses do extremely well when Starbucks comes into communities, especially other coffee shops."
And while it's true Starbucks is a global concern, the L Street shop will be run locally, employ local workers and give to local non-profits, Bletzer said.
He said the chain will deal with trash by not using a dumpster and by ensuring it only puts its trash out in cans along the side of the building, not on the sidewalk.
He continued that while Starbucks is hardly to blame for South Boston's already notorious traffic issues, it will try to do its part by limiting deliveries to 8 to 10 p.m., rather than during rush hour or other busy times.
Brent Grinna, who lives in City Point and runs a Fort Point software startup, said City Point currently has "very few, if any options" for people like him who want to get out of the office and do work or interviews.
Ryan Miller, who lives a block away, said he's looking forward to a non-alcohol-infused place where he and his wife can take their young son after 4 p.m.
Joe Green, owner of the Paramount, said he's also looking forward to a Starbucks. "All of my staff is very excited," he added.
Two women, one of whom is is landlord to a South End Starbucks, praised the chain as making the blocks they're on safer.
Opponents, however, urged the board to reject the license request again.
Like McCarthy, Karen Stanley, a longtime official in the South Boston Chamber of Commerce, said rising rents brought about by Starbucks would mean death for neighborhood small businesses, the ones who for 20 years or more "stuck their hand in their pocket [and said] let's make a difference, let's take a chance - they are fighting for their lives." It's nice Starbucks gives to the local Boys and Girls Club, but the local owners of local shops do even more - even for individual residents down on their luck.
One resident said she has nothing against Starbucks in general, but said L and Broadway is just the wrong location, because it's an intersection used by lots of children and people with strollers and that all the double-parking latte seekers who will dash in for their caffeeine fix will only make things worse. She contrasted that with a sit-down restaurant, which just wouldn't have that issue, she said. Norton had previously sought to put a sit-down Italian restaurant in the space, but couldn't get a liquor license from the board and decided not to try to buy one on the open market - where they can go for upwards of $300,000.
Donna Brown said that despite Bletzer's assertions, "not much has changed" and the outlet continues to pose the threat of greater trash and traffic issues.
An assistant manager of the Dunkin' Donuts next door to the proposed location said the way Starbucks is taking advantage of a zoning-board permit for one of the restaurants Norton tried to get for the space previously is unfair.
Flaherty's aide acknowledged the zoning board messed up by not including a normally routine provision in its approval that Norton begin serving food within two years or lose the approval and said his office will work with that board to ensure that doesn't happen again.