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600 block University Avenue

Mayor Paul Soglin has proposed a moratorium on new alcohol licenses downtown and said that the city needs to develop long term solutions for the alcohol-fueled violence happening downtown. The 600 block of University Avenue would be included in the moratorium's specified area. 

John Hart

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s proposed moratorium on new liquor licenses would affect the parts of downtown Madison nearest the University of Wisconsin campus, including Langdon Street, five blocks of State Street and Monroe Street near Camp Randall Stadium, according to a detailed version of the proposal released Thursday.

Under the proposal, the city would not be able to grant new alcohol licenses to bars and restaurants in this area unless they are part of a hotel. The moratorium would also not apply to the transfer of an existing license or a new license for a business that previously had an alcohol license. 

The six-month moratorium is meant to give the city time to develop long-term policies and solutions to the problems created by the density of bars, taverns, restaurants and other establishments selling alcohol downtown, according to the resolution. The moratorium would be automatically renewed every six months until the council adopts policies to deal with those problems.

Downtown Madison Inc. president Jason Ilsrup said public safety and quality of life are of the "utmost importance" and that the downtown advocacy organization is working with city leadership on the legislation. 

"We want to look at the right factors that balance economic development and make sure that we are looking at every solution possible," Ilstrup said.  

Soglin has said Madison has too many places selling alcohol and that their concentration contributes to violent fights and injuries downtown, leading to higher police costs. He has also criticized the City Council for continuing to grant alcohol licenses downtown.

“The city has not adopted a policy to deal with the problems caused by excessive consumption of alcohol, the density of bars and taverns, and the risk to (Madison police) officers and other persons in the downtown area,” the resolution states.

Downtown alders were surprised that the legislation was made public ahead of their meeting next week to discuss the moratorium. Soglin said in an email he had forgotten about the meeting and directed City Attorney Mike May to submit the resolution's language. 

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said he could not support the language in the mayor's proposal though he is "generally comfortable" with the designated area. A particular sticking point for Verveer is that the moratorium would apply to restaurants.

"We still have absolutely no agreement on what type of establishments would be covered," Verveer said. 

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Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, said she would need to see a strategy articulated in the resolution on how the city could move forward in addressing possible solutions in order to support the moratorium. Even if the resolution had that, Zellers said she is concerned about the proposed area for a moratorium. 

"Is this too broad of a brush to include things that have not had a history of really contributing to the problems?" Zellers said. 

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Proposed moratorium area

Mayor Paul Soglin has proposed a moratorium on new alcohol licenses in a central part of Madison's downtown. 

In 2014, the city adopted an ordinance that prevents new taverns and liquor stores in a smaller area of downtown. That ordinance, set to expire in July 2019, includes the 500 and 600 blocks of State Street, part of the 600 block of University Avenue and North Frances, West Gilman and North Broom Streets.

In recent weeks, Soglin vetoed an alcohol license for a Taco Bell Cantina on State Street and a proposal to allow curbside pickup of alcohol.

At its Tuesday meeting, the City Council will consider a motion to override Soglin’s veto of the “click and collect” alcohol sales, which allow patrons who order online to pick up their purchases in a designated parking spot outside of the store.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.