Marsh Shapiro was incredulous when he read the June 25 letter. The Madison Fire Department wants him to hire an architect to produce floor plans of his restaurant, the Nitty Gritty, so the city can determine the capacities for individual areas: first floor, second floor and patio.
"To me, that's nothing more than a harassment tactic," Shapiro says. "I don't believe it's a safety issue. I don't see where anybody's safety has been jeopardized."
Shapiro thinks it's just another way that the city is unsympathetic to businesses. "They want to harass people about capacity on football Saturdays," he says. "Sometimes, it's like they're resentful when people are trying to be successful."
Madison's fire marshal, Ed Ruckriegel, says his department sent similar letters to 12 other restaurants and bars in the downtown area, based on concerns from police and his office.
Ruckriegel says a bar might be under its overall capacity "but not operating safely" if patrons are crammed into one area. So the Fire Department needs to have numbers for each section.
The department's formula for capacity allows one person for every square foot. But that number can shrink based on the number of bathrooms and the size and number of the exits. If there are tables and chairs, the ratio changes to one patron for every five square feet.
If the business has architect plans on file, Ruckriegel says it would cost $400 to $500 for it to meet the city's requirement - if not, the cost climbs to a "couple of thousand."
Joel Plant, the mayor's neighborhood liaison, hopes to make it easier for the businesses to comply.
"We want to have capacities for individual floors," Plant says. "The question is, how do we generate those numbers? My assumption, always dangerous, is that there are existing plans we can use."
Ruckriegel says fire marshal checks, though random, are conducted at times when his department suspects overcrowding might occur, such as when a popular band is performing or during popular sports events. Violators get more scrutiny, and venues found to be "cooperative and under capacity" maybe be checked less frequently.
Shapiro, it so happens, was quoted in last week's Isthmus, criticizing another city initiative: the Community Police Team's efforts to enforce underage drinking laws ("On the Bar Beat," 7/10/09). But the guy who writes Isthmus' enduring Madison.gov column, his mind always in the sewer, misheard a word. Shapiro actually said he's not on the CPT's "hit list."
Grocery plan dealt setback
The grocery store proposed for University Square, expected to open in October, has been told by the city it doesn't qualify for the $1 million in tax incremental financing it wanted. But without financing, the grocery store probably won't happen, says Greg Rice, CEO of EMI, which owns the development.
"I need help," Rice says.
Joe Gromacki, Madison's TIF coordinator, says the project isn't big enough for TIF, a subsidy for projects financed by the future tax revenues they generate. "The project when it's developed doesn't add that much value," Gromacki says. "We'd need about a $10 million project" to qualify for $1 million in TIF.
The grocery store is expected to be a $3 million project, which would qualify for only about $190,000 in TIF money.
University Square - a $140 million complex on University Avenue that includes apartments, retail and restaurants - has already received $3 million in TIF funding. Jeff Maurer, former president of Pierce's Supermarkets, planned to operate the 18,000-square-foot grocery.
Rice still hopes to make the grocery store happen. "I need to visit [city staff] to see what other options I have to bridge the gap," he says. "I do think that area desperately needs a grocery."
What will Greyhound do?
Now that the Madison Common Council has given the go-ahead for a mixed-use residential development where the Badger Bus Depot currently sits on Bedford Street, where will Greyhound Bus drop off and pick up passengers after Aug. 31?
At least in the short term, Badger Coaches plans on dropping off and picking up customers at the UW Memorial Union, which it says most of its customers prefer to use. It will also use the Kelley's Market on West Washington Avenue.
"The Memorial Union becomes a de facto bus depot, which nobody wants," says Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff. "Short term, we're in an unfortunate situation where there really aren't any good solutions."
Keith Pollack of the city's traffic engineering department says he met with a Greyhound representative on the issue, but "he really didn't have all that much to say, to be honest with you."
Abby Wambaugh, a Greyhound spokeswoman, didn't have all that much to say either: "We are in the early process of looking" for a drop-off location. Greyhound hopes to find a business at which to load and unload - preferably a business that is open during scheduled stops.
Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer hopes a downtown transfer station will be built, solving the problem: "If we're going to have downtown rail, we need efficient connections."