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Saturday, December 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
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R Place owner Rick Flowers fights to keep his bar alive at Madison ALRC hearing
Flowers talked about his idea of what R Place should have been -- and what it became.
Flowers talked about his idea of what R Place should have been -- and what it became.
Credit:Cailley Hammel

On the stand during Monday night's Alcohol License Review Committee meeting, Rick Flowers explained the management philosophy he employed for his bar, R Place on Park.

"If your dog is barking, I'm not going to call the police. I'm just going to ask you -- shut your dog up," Flowers told the committee, which is considering revoking the establishment's license. "I felt that it was the same way it would work if there was a problem. If we're alerted we're going to respond a lot more quickly and pro-actively than the police."

Noise complaints are just part of the controversy swirling around R Place. In addition to angering neighbors with loud cars and loitering adults, R Place has been the scene of violent incidents, including physical fights and shootings outside the bar.

In his testimony, Flowers emphasized his attempts to cooperate with Madison police. His efforts have included participating in "ride-alongs" (in which he accompanies Madison police officers as they patrol the area near his bar), installing more lighting in the bar and parking lot, and installing metal detectors upon entry. Other measures, like the addition of security staff, were mandated by the chief of police in a security plan, which Flowers opposed.

"He was very upset with it, how it was going to hurt his business," testified officer Michael Hanson. Flowers purportedly said the police "[don't] do this for downtown bars."

Flowers talked about his idea of what R Place should have been -- and what it became.

"We were targeting the people kind of like myself," he said. "They had jobs, semi-professional, we could discuss politics and not necessarily minor things like people and sports." While he was initially successful, that crowd "ran away" from him, he said.

As younger patrons came in increasing numbers, older clientele didn't return. Instead of fighting it, Flowers embraced it.

"If you can't be with the ones you love, love the ones you're with," he said.

"This is the only bar in a 70-mile radius, outside of Milwaukee, that's a predominantly black crowd," he said. He claims to attract patrons from as far as Rockford because of the bar's demographic.

Testimony in the hearing included that of several police officers who interacted with Flowers in the past or worked in the South District where R Place is located. Many supported Flowers's statements of cooperation with Madison police.

"We had officers that talked to him on a regular basis and offered suggestions of recommendation," said Lt. Stephanie Bradley Wilson. However, officers' testimony also came with anecdotes to describe Flowers' potential reliance on the police to keep order on his property, namely in regards to the parking lot of R Place where any of the incidents occurred.

"We tried to assist as much as possible, given the understanding that we would not be able to police his parking lot as much as he wanted because it was part of his responsibility as the owner to make sure the parking lot was safe," Bradley Wilson said.

Resolution has yet to be reached in the issue. ALRC member Mike Verveer said the case will be finalized sometime after June 7. ALRC members will first meet in a closed session, and the final decision will be determined by the full city council.

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