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BRAINTREE

Arcade plan stirs concerns

Residents blast restaurant games

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / June 17, 2010

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Texas-based Dave & Buster’s, with 57 restaurants in 24 states, is looking to make its foray into Massachusetts via Braintree. But since company officials announced plans to use the now-empty Circuit City building in the South Shore Plaza, the debate over what the chain would bring to this town of 35,000 has been heated.

The Dave & Buster’s model features a restaurant and bar, along with a large midway with about 150 electronic games. Winners are given tickets to exchange for small prizes. To make sure the spot doesn’t become a magnet for unsupervised teens, restaurant rules allow children under 18 only if they are accompanied by an adult or guardian.

Supporters argue it is a good use for an empty building, pointing out the company is willing to invest $12 million in renovations. The restaurant will also provide 200 jobs to area residents. But others say it will bring traffic, noise, and an unwholesome element to town.

Representatives from Dave & Buster’s first approached Braintree officials last winter and successfully acquired a liquor license from the Braintree Board of License Commissioners.

The project, however, can’t move forward without a local bylaw change: Braintree has an ordinance limiting coin-operated arcade machines to five per business.

Mayor Joseph Sullivan and the Board of License Commissioners have submitted a proposed bylaw adjustment to the Town Council that allows a game room as an accessory to a restaurant, as long as it is less than half the size of the total area.

According to April Spearman, Dave & Buster’s vice president of marketing, the arcade will take up just about half the space.

To date, the Town Council has held a few discussions on the bylaw change but has not taken a vote.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Peter Morin, said town officials have looked at what limits neighboring communities have on electronic games. They found most have no such bylaws. Morin said he visited the Dave & Buster’s in Providence to better understand the business model.

“It’s a well-run place, and it’s been operating for over a decade,’’ Morin said.

But residents in the Granite Park neighborhood, across the street from the target location, don’t want it.

“I don’t think this is what the town is looking for,’’ said neighborhood association president Robert Campbell, who recently presented Braintree officials with a petition signed by 141 residents. “It has a party atmosphere and will be open after the mall closes. We’ll get the traffic cutting through our neighborhood, people urinating on the lawns of property owners, and cars parked up on the sidewalks.’’

“There are 70 children’’ in Granite Park, Campbell said. “Even the young people are against this. They feel it’s not a positive for our neighborhood.’’

Noise is also a major concern, he said. “There was a carnival in the spot where the restaurant is going recently, and we could hear the noise like we were right there.’’

The North Braintree Civic Association also submitted a letter to town officials with a list of concerns from its neighborhood, including fear that the establishment would draw undesirable elements to town.

“There’s a potential to attract a rowdier crowd than a standard restaurant,’’ said association president Kelly Moore. “Some are concerned that if we let Dave & Buster’s into town with an arcade and change the bylaws to allow multiple machines, that Braintree will turn into a South Shore casino kind of thing, but that’s not a concern I share.’’

Two anonymous mass mailings have also fueled the fight, warning an ordinance change would open the door for “other gaming operations to invade Braintree.’’

Spearman disagrees.

“We are not a gambling establishment, nor do we have gambling anywhere on our premises,’’ she said. Business locations are very carefully selected, she added.

“South Shore Plaza is one of the top regional shopping centers in New England, and, based on demographics of the area and current co-tenancy with stores like Nordstrom’s and Cheesecake Factory, we feel this site is an ideal fit,’’ Spearman said.

Peter Forman, president and chief executive officer of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, who has attended Braintree’s discussions about Dave & Buster’s, says the concerns are unwarranted.

“The stories and fears are way out of proportion to what this is,’’ Forman said. “It’s a family-style restaurant. Up the street you have the same model in Legacy Place.’’ Forman referred to King’s, a 26,000-square-foot entertainment facility in the Dedham complex featuring bowling, skee ball, shuffleboard, three bars, and a full-service restaurant.

“South Shore Plaza is owned by Simon Properties, one of the biggest mall owners in the country,’’ said Forman. “The idea they are going to sit by and watch a restaurant turn into a gang headquarters is silly. It will be well managed and well watched. They’re not going to have a rogue property with police cars there every night.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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