The Madison City Council’s approval of an alcohol license for a Taco Bell Cantina located on State Street raised questions about the density of alcohol establishments and the challenges they bring to the downtown area.
The Taco Bell Cantina moving into 534 State St. will be allowed to sell beer and wine until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, following the Council’s approval Tuesday.
Taco Bell franchisee representative Pat Eulberg estimated that sales from beer and wine will total 5 percent of the store's revenue. He also said safety precautions have been implemented such as adding 17 security cameras and lighting up the storefront.
“Our company has a very deep experience with responsible service of alcohol, and we know that that is a big piece of a successful operation,” Eulberg said.
As part of conditions placed on the license, 50 percent or less of Taco Bell’s sales can come from alcohol, food must be available at all times and staff must regularly monitor and discourage loitering around the premises.
The applicant originally requested a full liquor license and the ability to serve alcohol later.
Madison Police Capt. Jason Freedman supported the individual application but expressed a need to establish parameters for the amount of establishments selling alcohol downtown, whether they are restaurants, bars or taverns.
“I think that alcohol creates an environment that is very vulnerable to some of the stressors and the issues we are experiencing,” Freedman said.
Mayor Paul Soglin expressed similar concerns in an email to alders ahead of the vote. He said the violence at downtown locations associated with alcohol is increasing in frequency and in severity.
“If we are concerned about public safety, if we are concerned about mounting law enforcement costs, issuing a license that brings no public value, but great public liability does not make sense,” Soglin said.
In particular, the 500 block of State Street has faced challenges with loitering and problems related to alcohol. Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said he could not support any application for a full liquor license on that block.
“I am not enthusiastic about a Taco Bell serving beer and wine on the 500 block of State Street, but frankly because of the concessions made by the applicant, the fact that they’ve agreed to everything we’ve asked of him, I do not find … that it rises to the level that we can or should deny,” Verveer said.
Another restaurant on the block, Koi Sushi, was originally denied an alcohol license, partly because of its location. Soglin also vetoed an alcohol license for Lotsa Mozza Pizza, the restaurant in between Koi Sushi and Taco Bell, which the Council overrode.
The mayor could decide to veto the City Council's approval of the license for Taco Bell.
Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, opposed the license because of the 500 block's history.
"I have no issue with this applicant or this application. It’s the location and situations, the alcohol-fueled problems," Skidmore said.
Concern over the mix of businesses downtown is not new. Last spring, Soglin proposed enacting a moratorium on “beverage businesses,” like bars and coffee shops, in an effort to preserve traditional retail downtown.
The mayor raised concerns over fast food restaurants increasingly adding alcohol to their business models, saying that Taco Bell’s license is “just the beginning.”
The ALRC recently approved creating a subcommittee to research fast food liquor licenses.