Among other recent downtown building projects, the University Square redevelopment received $3 million from the city of Madison in tax incremental financing.

A 900-person, Badgers-themed sports restaurant and bar is proposed at the new University Square, a prospect that has some people worried about what could be the city's largest such establishment in an already alcohol-dense Downtown.

"Everyone keeps on assuming we're just going to be a gigantic bar, and we're not," said owner Scott Acker, owner of the establishment tentatively named Badger Hall of Fame Grill. "The commitment to food is first. With 36 bar stools in a 24,000-square-foot area, I think everyone will be able to see the emphasis is on food and not drinking."

A liquor license application will be introduced at Tuesday's City Council meeting, where it will be referred to the city's Alcohol License Review Committee for recommendation before a final decision is made, probably at the Aug. 4 council meeting, said ALRC and member Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4.

Verveer said Acker will have to prove it is and can remain a "bona fide restaurant" in accordance with the city ordinance limiting the number of taverns Downtown.

In the application, Acker predicts 58 percent of sales would come from food and non-alcoholic beverages and 40 percent from alcohol, but Verveer said he worries actual sales could be otherwise and jeopardize the license.

"They could very well find themselves the victim of their own success," Verveer said.

Acker said he hopes to eventually serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus late-night food at the location, which is a block-and-a-half from the Kohl Center. Acker also is the owner of Quaker Steak & Lube in Middleton.

The proposed restaurant's general manager, Conrad Arnold, owns Opus Lounge at 116 King St. Dawn Crim, special assistant to UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin and an ALRC member, said she is comfortable with the proposed plan and expects Acker's management experience will be an asset.

"Our concern is working with the city in managing just the numbers that will be in the Downtown area," Crim said. "We have cautioned (Acker) that the Downtown location is a different crowd and you'll really have to have high management."

An earlier bar called Field Pass was proposed for University Square by Curt Brink and received a liquor license in December 2007, setting a precedent for the location, Verveer said.

But Brink wasn't able to secure financing for the project and ended it, he said. The new proposal is the only one up for a liquor license now at University Square, Verveer said, though a proposed grocery store might sell alcohol.

Acker said he anticipates hiring 225 employees, including nine managers and a director of security. Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said the department looks forward to working with Acker and University Square manager Greg Rice.

"We'd certainly be interested in hearing plans for what type of crowd they're hoping to attract," DeSpain said. The restaurant would be open as early as 6:30 a.m. during the week and as late as 3:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, according to the application.


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