Common Council finds compromise on sidewalk café fee hike

Under the initial proposal, downtown businesses would have had to pay $13 per square foot for sidewalk space. With the new compromise, the businesses will pay $5.50 per square foot. 

Image By: Leah Voskuil

The Madison Common Council voted Tuesday to pass a compromise solution for downtown businesses regarding a license fee increase.

The compromise solution, passed without debate, decreased the proposed fee from $13 to an eventual $5.50 per square foot in 2018. According to the compromise, the revenue from the fees will go to improved maintenance and new programming in the downtown area.

The solution was passed as a response to Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s proposal to increase license fees for downtown sidewalk eating and retail areas.

Under the initial proposal, sponsored by campus-area alders Mike Verveer, District 4, and Zach Wood, District 8, restaurant owners would have been required to pay $13 per square foot starting in 2018, leading to a total cost far exceeding that of owners in cities like Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

On top of concerns about the fee increase, business owners also voiced apprehensions about the Mayor’s plans for the revenue.

In an Aug. 18 letter to the Common Council, Fromagination owner Ken Monteleone called for a clearer revenue plan.

“There should be a clearer statement of purpose, and a guarantee of use, that accompanies this change to the current license fee fund,” Monteleone said.

Fromagination is an artisanal cheese café on the Capitol Square with a small patio space of roughly 12 chairs and 133 square feet.

Under the old proposal, Fromagination’s fees would have tripled from $550 to $1729, an amount of money that Monteleone hoped would go to city programming instead of a general fund. Now, the new proposal would have Fromagination’s fees total $665.

Beginning with the 2016 vending season, State Street area fees would switch from a per-seat charge to a per-square foot charge, starting at $4.50. The fee would increase to $5 in 2017 and then $5.50 in 2018.

Fees for cafés across the rest of the city will switch to a flat $3 per square foot fee.

The solution was well-received by representatives of downtown businesses.

Food Fight Restaurant Group Managing Partner Greg Frank called the solution “a fair compromise, especially since the money will be used for downtown programming.”

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