Madison Mayor Paul Soglin on Thursday released a proposal that would bar almost any new liquor license in an area of the central city stretching from Monroe Street on the Near West Side to just west of the Capitol.
The approximately 45-block area includes fraternity-heavy Langdon Street, the 200 through 600 blocks of State Street and both sides of a stretch of Monroe Street by Camp Randall. The city would not be able to issue new liquor licenses in the area — including for bars or restaurants — unless they are part of a hotel development.
As spaces formerly occupied by retailers in the State Street area increasingly have been filled with dining, Soglin and the City Council have been at odds over how much Downtown alcohol availability is too much.
Amid what he sees as an uptick in fights and other liquor-fueled problems around bar-closing time, Soglin has been calling on the council to stop approving licenses for restaurants in the area. He has vetoed three such licenses in the last three years, though the council overrode two of them. Thursday’s proposal is his first formal attempt to further regulate liquor in the area.
Pete Mitropoulos, part-owner of a 2,900-square-foot property at 315 State, said the shift from retail to restaurants Downtown makes sense as more retailing goes online and more people — not just UW-Madison students — are choosing to live in the area.
And “that’s great,” he said. “There’s obviously a need for more. ... We need that kind of atmosphere.”
He said restaurants with liquor licenses occupied 315 State from 1973 until a couple of years ago, and banning liquor there now would hurt chances for attracting a tenant.
Ald. Mike Verveer, parts of whose 4th District are in the moratorium area, said that based on the response he’s heard from some Downtown property owners, “many ... would be adversely affected” by the moratorium.
Leaders of two groups that promote the Downtown weren’t ready Friday to take a position on Soglin’s proposal.
Tiffany Kenney, who directs the city’s Central Business Improvement District, or BID, said the group was a “little surprised” to see Soglin’s legislation introduced Thursday, while Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison Inc., said his group wasn’t consulted on it but that he knew it was coming.
Ilstrup said he agreed that the city has “got to come up with some solution” to alcohol-fueled problems Downtown, but that retailers often aren’t being replaced with restaurants or bars, but with service-oriented businesses. He wasn’t sure what the perfect mix of business types is in the area.
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“We have not yet had time to digest the new legislation, but we look forward to engaging with city leadership and our members to come to the best solutions for continuing to make Downtown Madison a great place to live, work and play,” BID said in a statement.
Under a 2014 ordinance set to expire July 1, 2019, the city is already prohibited from approving new taverns and liquor stores in the 500 and 600 blocks of State Street, the north side of the 600 block of University Avenue, the 400 blocks of North Frances and West Gilman streets and the west side of the 400 block of North Broom Street.
This approximately four-block area would be included within the proposed moratorium area, and the moratorium itself would be automatically renewed every six months until the council adopts policies to limit alcohol-related problems, at which time the moratorium could be ended.
Verveer wasn’t expecting the moratorium’s release Thursday because he and other council members who represent the Downtown were still working out details of the proposal with the mayor. He said it’s likely to be referred to committee, but not discussed, when it’s taken up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Soglin said it had been his intent to discuss the proposal with council members but that he “had it posted (online) before the alders had a chance to look at it.
“My bad,” he added.
Verveer said he could live with the proposed boundaries of the moratorium, but remains opposed to banning new restaurant liquor licenses. He said he’s open, though, to possibly limiting how late they could sell liquor.
Also at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the council could decide to override Soglin’s veto last month of an ordinance that would allow people to place orders for liquor online and complete the sales and pick-up the orders from the comfort of their vehicles.
Retailers offering “click and collect” service would have to get approval for designated areas in their parking lots where the orders would be delivered by store personnel and the sales completed.
Soglin has said he could support the ordinance if customers had to go into the store to complete purchases — something Verveer has said would negate the ordinance’s purpose.
The ordinance passed the council on a voice vote Jan. 16. Votes from 14 of the 20 council members are needed to override the mayor’s veto.