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Food carts on Library Mall

Under a phase-out plan, late-night food cart operators will be restricted to serving patrons solely in the Library Mall area, pictured above, by the spring of 2023.

The Madison City Council on Tuesday approved a plan to end late-night food cart vending Downtown — with the exception of Library Mall — in five years that has been billed as a way to improve public safety.

The council adopted on a voice vote a proposal that will end late-night vending in most of Downtown by spring of 2023. Currently, four food carts can serve patrons in various Downtown locations from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

A new late-night program that will concentrate food carts solely on Library Mall must be set up before the current system is dissolved, giving bar-goers and night owls the chance to continue grabbing food-cart eats.

Staff with the city’s Economic Development Division, Attorney’s Office and Police Department originally brought forward the idea of ending the late-night program due to safety concerns related to intoxicated people gathering at the carts and getting into fights.

“The food carts are not the root cause of the problem,” said Dan Kennelly, manager of the city’s Office of Business Resources. “But they do kind of contribute to a reason for people to linger outside at bar time, and that in turn contributes to some of the negative activity that’s been occurring.”

Kennelly also noted that overseeing the late-night program takes up a disproportionally large amount of staff time compared to daytime food cart permits.

The proposal originally would have outright stopped late-night vending following the five-year window, but an amendment made last week at the Vending Oversight Committee called for the replacement program at Library Mall — the western end of State Street on the UW-Madison campus.

Field Lt. Brian Chaney Austin, with the MPD’s Central District, said police believe food carts on Library Mall will be more manageable for ensuring safety based on the physical layout of the location and better quality security cameras in the area.

Matt Mikolajewski, the city’s economic development director, said the Library Mall program will hopefully be a “food truck or food cart rendezvous” that could also be tailored to serve families visiting the area during the evening hours.

Only food cart owners who have held a late-night permit in the 2016-2017 or 2017-2018 vending seasons are able to apply for licenses during the five-year phase-out period.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.