Ten months after Madison City Council members rejected a moratorium on new liquor licenses Downtown, the study they approved in its place is confirming what had been the rationale for the proposed moratorium.
Bluntly put: More liquor equals more problems.
The study by the city’s Finance Department and the joint city-Dane County public health department, released Friday, found that as the number of bars, liquor stores and other places that sell alcohol in an area go up, so do the number of police calls and need for building inspection services, with the cost to provide those services in areas with the most liquor licenses more than double the cost to provide them in the areas with the fewest.
A similar relationship was not found between the number of liquor licenses and calls for emergency and fire department services.
The study does not make any formal recommendations, but it does specifically reject the notion of charging liquor license holders a special fee to the cover the additional cost associated with lots of booze in a confined space.
Instead, it reports that limiting the number of liquor licenses by geographic area or population, limiting the total number of liquor sellers in commercial areas, and further restricting the hours and places liquor can be sold could reduce alcohol-associated problems.
The Alcohol License Review Committee will get a presentation on the study Wednesday. Committee chairman Tom Landgraf called it the “most comprehensive” — if unsurprising — analysis he has seen.
“To me, there wasn’t anything that was a great surprise,” he said.
The study notes that the “significant body of research regarding the association between alcohol outlet density and alcohol-related problems” has led groups including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to recommend alcohol outlet density control be used to minimize alcohol-related community harm.”
Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents the Downtown and is a longtime member of the ALRC, also was not surprised by the study’s findings.
But he said it lends support to maintaining the Downtown’s Alcohol Overlay District, which was adopted in 2014 and prohibits new taverns and new 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.
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Those restrictions had been set to expire July 1 of this year but were extended until Dec. 31 to give city and county staff time to complete the density report.
“I’m inclined to support (the overlay district) continuing and at this point making it permanent,” Verveer said.
He has also sponsored a budget amendment to bump up the cost of a city entertainment license from $300 to $400, beginning July 1, to provide money to deal with alcohol-related problems in the Downtown. Taverns commonly have the licenses.
Amid what he saw as an increase in alcohol-fueled fights and other crime in the Downtown, former Mayor Paul Soglin in January 2018 proposed barring 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 targeted area was later reduced in size but the proposal was repeatedly referred by city committees until the City Council formally shelved it in December, when the council also directed staff to conduct the alcohol density study.
Since the beginning of 2018, the number of fights, noise and other disturbances around bar time by people who have had too much to drink has remained “about the same,” according to Central District Lt. Dan Nale, who emphasized that this was his impression and not based off any specific crime data.
On Friday and Saturday nights during the spring and summer, police continued to pay overtime to as many as 14 additional officers to monitor the 600 block of University Avenue and the intersections of Broom, Gilman and State streets and Broom and Gorham streets, he said.
Before the Alcohol Overlay District went into effect, the city’s 2007 Alcohol License Density Ordinance banned new taverns in a much larger area of the Downtown — essentially the entire Isthmus between Blair and Park streets.
Most recently, in May, some 14 taverns in the Downtown agreed to have restrictions added to their licenses that bar people from entering after 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, or an hour before closing. Seven other bars had agreed to the restriction in 2018.
Police said then that the restriction had helped to curb the number of troublemakers in the area.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway was not available to comment Tuesday on the alcohol density report.