HACKENSACK — While the city gets set to welcome hundreds of new residents to buildings being constructed downtown, business leaders hope they’ll have something to do on the weekends.

Hackensack has approved the construction of more than 2,000 residential units as it overhauls its downtown.

But Jerry Lombardo, chairman of the Upper Main Street Alliance, said Hackensack still lacks the nightlife required to draw the young people city leaders want to move into the downtown. Hackensack on a Friday night is quiet, much quieter than the 24-hour city Lombardo envisions it becoming.

“These young residents, they’re looking for bars and restaurants to keep the night life going,” he said.

One big reason is a lack of restaurants serving liquor downtown, Lombardo said. Hackensack has more than 40 retail consumption licenses.

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However, only six belong to businesses downtown, including one go-go bar. In contrast, eight of the liquor licenses are held by businesses at the Shops at Riverside, a mall on Route 4.

Lombardo pointed to the restaurants and nightlife that draw people to the booming downtowns of Jersey City and Hoboken for comparison.

“It’s great that you can go downstairs, have burger and a beer or a couple of drinks and you don’t have to use a vehicle,” he said.

The Alliance is looking at ways to allow more restaurants to serve booze downtown without asking developers to pry them away from existing holders. Liquor Polobet licenses can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many of the holders in Hackensack are rich national chains like Cheesecake Factory and PF Chang’s.

Lombardo floated the idea of special permits allowing the sale of liquor in redeveloping cities like Hackensack. The idea makes sense in downtown Hackensack, Lombardo said, especially after the state designated the city a “Transit Village,” a title for communities that encourage mass transit, walking and biking.

“If you want smart growth in the areas where there’s transportation, you’ve got to give us the tools to be able to develop those areas,” Lombardo said.

Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for Hackensack, said Mayor John LaBrosse and the council “would welcome any effort to find innovative solutions to regulatory issues that will help attract new businesses that will benefit the community.”

Help may come from way down in South Jersey. Assemblyman Joe Burzichelli, a Democrat representing parts of Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties, hopes to move a bill this year that would create liquor licenses costing as little as $1,500 a year for restaurants serving wine and beer.

Municipalities would be able to issue an unlimited number of these restricted licenses, but holders would be restricted to serving liquor only at tables, not at bars. The bill would also allow some municipalities to issue more retail consumption licenses, based on population and give a tax credit to compensate existing license holders for the loss in value the bill would create.

Burzichelli said the bill would and make opening restaurants in developing downtowns less risky.

“Losing that stream of revenue that comes from being able to offer a drink means your potential for failure is greater,” he said.

The assemblyman said he hopes the bill is heard by legislative committees this year.

Myles Ma may be reached at mma@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MylesMaNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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