The move comes after the center’s recertification hearing last month with the State Liquor Authority, during which a vote on the license was postponed until the SLA’s June 2nd session. The SLA had previously denied the center’s initial application in May of 2014.
“The previous denial a year ago was based on community opposition, which included the 104th Precinct and this community board,” said Knockdown Center manager Tyler Myers. “In the year since that denial, we have been able to audition our operational strategy and have received much more support as a result.”
Included in the packet Knockdown Center employees handed out was a January 6th letter written by the 104th Precinct’s former Commanding Officer, Captain Christopher Manson, to the SLA.
Citing the center’s performance during three large events during the previous year at which alcohol was served under a temporary license, Manson said he had reconsidered his position on the application.
He said that during the events he had witnessed employees of the center audited and maintained permissible noise levels, maintained orderly entry lines, and picked up trash outside the facility.
He also noted that venue security had appropriately dealt with an episode in which two attendees attempted to circumvent the rules pertaining to alcohol.
“Throughout 2014, Knockdown Center has proven their ability to safely host large events and have proven a genuine desire to maintain the quality of life of area residents,” read the letter. “There is now a strong, working relationship between Knockdown Center and the 104th Precinct…and I have no opposition to their application.”
Also included in the packet was a letter drafted by Christina Wilkinson, president of Citizens for a Better Maspeth, Rosemarie Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET), and Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, addressed to the SLA, listing a number of stipulations to be included on a potential license, to which the center has agreed.
The list of 15 conditions includes that the center will adhere to designated areas for event attendees to queue and exit, that the center will procure shuttle buses to take attendees to local trains, and that the center will ensure events remain within permissible noise levels.
Other community members also took to the microphone during the meeting’s public forum section to advocate for the center. Martyna Florczak, president of area non-profit Polish Gift of Life, said she had firsthand experience dealing both with the center’s benevolence and their need to serve alcohol.
“When I told [Center owner David Sklar] what we do, he offered us the whole venue for free, at a huge cost to him,” she said. “We had a family festival, and it was a huge success. There were no issues. Everyone was happy but everyone was asking ‘why don’t we have beer?’”
“Events like this need alcohol,” she added. “This kind of a venue is necessary in this neighborhood. Nobody has issues with liquor licenses, but these guys for whatever reason have issues. I wanted to ask you to strongly reconsider.”
Sklar also addressed the board.
“We were planning an event, and one of my sons said ‘it’s really awesome we can do things like this,’” he said. “Well, it is awesome. And I want you guys to come and be a part of it.”
A handful of other community members attended the meeting to make the case for the center, however a board rule limiting the number of people who can advocate for a certain issue during a public forum to three precluded many from speaking.
In a letter she was unable to read aloud but passed on to this newspaper, Lynn Lobell, Grants and Resource Director for Queens Council on the Arts, said her organization was a strong supporter of the center.
“Local artists value Knockdown Center as an important arts resource,” the letter read. “QCA supports the Knockdown Center because they are committed to be a positive force in the community.”
Some locals were not so convinced. In an open letter to CB5, Ridgewood resident Caitlin Shann said that she believed large-scale events at the center had the potential to flow into the community and cause problems.
“Like any good event producer knows, even the best-laid plans are thwarted by your attendees,” she wrote. “You can direct people and incentivize them to behave appropriately, but people are going to do what they want. Tyler and David will not have any control over what happens in the hours before an event, as people descend into the neighborhood, likely pre-partying, because that's what people do. And they will not have control over what happens once people leave the premises at midnight.”
The center’s request was passed on to the Land Use Committee, which will discuss the permit during their May 26th hearing, after which they will report back to the Executive Committee.