Food carts on Library Mall

A new night food program on Library Mall will replace the current late-night vending program, which will be phased out by 2023. 

Though late-night street vending will be eliminated by 2023 under a proposal approved by the Madison City Council Tuesday, a new program will be implemented on the 700 and 800 blocks of State Street.

Late-night vending has created challenges for police looking to disperse people after bar time.

"We of course agree that the food carts are not the root cause of this problem. They’re serving food, but they do contribute to a reason for people to linger after bar time and that contributes to some of the negative activity," said Dan Kennelly, manager of the city's Office of Business Resources.

City staff also say that dealing with late-night vending issues, including license revocation hearings and complaints, take up a lot of their time. 

A late-night vending permit allows operators to sell food between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. Currently, four food carts hold late-night vending licenses and are located in specific areas that include the 400 block of North Broom Street, the 500 block of North Frances Street, and at North Lake Street and University Avenue.

"We definitely don’t take this lightly because this will impact the livelihood of some food carts entrepreneurs who really rely on late-night vending as part of their business," Kennelly said.  

Under the proposal, no new businesses can apply for late-night vending licenses. Vendors who have held permits for either of the past two vending seasons will be able to purchase permits through 2023.

The proposal also eliminates specific vending zones and allows the police department and vending coordinator to determine the locations for late-night vending during the next five years. It also gives them more flexibility to move vending locations mid-season, Kennelly said.

Meanwhile, city staff and the Vending Oversight Committee will create a new program for late-night vending on the 700 block of State Street, also known as the State Street Mall. The idea is to create a food court of food carts.

"The hope here was to create a compromise," Kennelly said. 

The four late-night vendors who will be affected are not excited about the new proposal. Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said they feel they will not be as financially successful on Library Mall as in other locations. 

"It pains me that we are constantly moving the vendors around. It absolutely pains me that the majority of them have always been people of color and that we’re dealing with their livelihoods," Verveer said. "The reality is that I think it is the fair and right thing to do." 

To ensure the new location is successful for the vendors, Economic Development Division director Matt Mikolajewski acknowledged that the city will need to do more than just direct the vendors to the State Street Mall. 

"We have to create a space and cultivate an opportunity for them to thrive there," Mikolajewski said. 

Lt. Brian Chaney-Austin of the Madison Police Department said State Street Mall, reconstructed two years ago with accommodating food carts in mind, is a "much more manageable" space than the current late-night vending locations. 

"It’s also a spot that we feel we can — just based on the physics of the area, the location itself — just have a better grasp and control of monitoring persons and behavior," Chaney-Austin said. "That’s one of our biggest challenges now." 

Vendors who do not purchase late-night licenses during the five-year period will lose eligibility for future late-night vending licensing.

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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.

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