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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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ALRC delays overhaul of downtown Madison alcohol licensing process
Sunset date for current ordinance extended to January 2014
Approving the extension, Woulf says, will give city staff enough time to develop the recommendations.
Credit:Bennet Goldstein

Although the recommendations (PDF) for revising Madison's alcohol licensing process hold far-reaching consequences, the Alcohol License Review Committee determined Wednesday night it needed more information as well as a review by the city's legal counsel before it could have a meaningful discussion on the proposals. To expedite this process, the committee unanimously recommended extending the current ordinance, due to expire Aug. 1, to Jan. 1, 2014.

"I will hope we won’t spend too much time trying to figure out the recommendations right now," said Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, a member of the committee. "Obviously the devil is in the details on all of them. At least for myself, what I'm supporting is a resolution that would direct staff to come back to us with those proposals more fully in order for us to have discussion of those."

Mark Woulf, the city's alcohol license coordinator, presented the recommendations to the panel.

The proposals were developed by city staff at the request of the Common Council to eventually replace Madison's Alcohol License Density Ordinance. The current ordinance aims to limit the proliferation of taverns downtown by capping the number of liquor licenses the city issues to establishments that generate more than 50% of their revenue from alcohol sales.

Woulf says the current ordinance divides new establishments into taverns or restaurants, which makes it difficult for the city to attract new entertainment venues that wish to serve alcohol. In 2011, the ordinance was changed to allow up to seven entertainment venues to apply for special licenses in which they could generate up to 70% of their annual revenue from alcohol sales.

No entertainment venues applied for this type of license.

"Despite our best efforts in trying to address that, we have fallen short in that area," Woulf says.

The proposed plan outlines the requirements (PDF) for many establishments, including entertainment venues, which Woulf says gives businesses greater flexibility. For instance, the proposed plan does not stipulate the amount of revenue an entertainment venue could draw from alcohol sales. Woulf says business owners may worry they will underestimate alcohol sales, potentially jeopardizing their liquor license.

"That's certainly not a way to start a new business knowing that that risk is high," he says.

Another recommendation is to shrink the current ordinance borders (PDF), which extend along the isthmus from Blair Street to Park Street. While the proposed licensing changes would affect all of Madison, the strictest measures would only apply to the State Street area. This would allow the city to create licensing policies that would specifically target the area, which is known for generating a high number of alcohol-related disturbances during late-night hours.

The recommendation to extend the current ordinance will head to the Common Council for final approval July 2.

Approving the extension, Woulf says, will give city staff enough time to develop the recommendations, which will require the creation or modification of ordinances, addition of budgetary items and revision of city policies and programs.

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