City News

Madison finance committee moves controversial beer garden plan forward

Despite contentious debate among citizens and officials, Madison Board of Estimates approved Monday an agreement forwarding the Olbrich Beer Garden proposal.

Image By: Will Chizek

Madison’s finance committee approved an agreement Monday between the city and a developer who plans to operate a German-style beer garden on the shoreline in Olbrich Park.

As with its slow movement through other city council subcommittees, the Olbrich Beer Garden proposal weathered heavy criticism from citizens and members before gaining approval.

The approved resolution says the city and the beer garden developer, BKM Group, LLC, will enter into a seven-year agreement beginning this year. Under the agreement, the city will allow the BKM Group to sell food and beverages, including alcohol, at the park. In turn, the developer will pay to Madison $171,650 over its seven years of operation and make a minimum of $62,500 in capital improvements to city facilities.

Although set for seven years of operation, the agreement only locks parties in for the first two years. In 2019, a mutual agreement clause will allow adjustments to be made to the resolution.

Numerous homeowners from the Eastmorland neighborhood, where the beer garden would be located, encouraged the Board of Estimates against forwarding the proposal’s agenda.

Opponents to the proposal expressed several concerns including whether enough cost-benefit analyses of the budget aspect have been done and whether a for-profit beer garden in a public area would be able to equally serve members of the community.

Tim Gordon, a city resident who represents the East Side Planning Council, questioned the planning process and said the beer garden would disproportionately benefit Olbrich Park attendees.

“Before we rent [part of the shoreline] out to a private, for-profit enterprise, we need to make absolutely sure that this is what citizens of the whole area want,” Gordon said. “We request that studies, extreme caution and more public involvement be employed such that we don’t dedicate a large portion of our public shoreline to a project that benefits a few at the cost of alienating a large portion of our citizens.”

Ald. David Ahrens, District 15, said there have already been more than enough studies and analyses conducted for the project.

“When I hear people say that this has not been sufficiently vetted, I feel like I’m in an alternate universe … We have discussed the height of the bathroom sink and the towel dispenser. We have discussed what kind of gravel should make up the gravel walkway. There is no element to it that has not been gone over and over and over again,” Ahrens said.

David Wallner, president of the city’s Park Commission, said he thinks of the beer garden as a “Memorial Union Terrace for adults and families,” saying it will be more low-key with no loud music.

Wallner noted the success of several German-style beer gardens in Milwaukee.

“[What I saw in Milwaukee] was a place that’s multi-generational—lots of kids kicking around soccer balls, playing on playgrounds right next to the beer garden, pretzels, root beer, brats. It’s not just about drinking. Grandma and grandpa were there with the kids. It’s a tremendous atmosphere,” Wallner said.

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