Local policy makers and the city attorney’s office have come to an impasse about how to proceed in restructuring the city’s licensing of downtown entertainment venues, particularly those that admit audience members under the age of 21.
The ongoing conflict culminated Friday when City Attorney Michael May reinforced Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy’s cautionary advice to the Alcohol License Review Committee not to expand 18+ entertainment in the city. In fact, May and Zilavy took the opportunity to recommend the committee scale back the current number of downtown venues to more closely adhere to a state statute.
However, City Food and Alcohol Policy Coordinator Mark Woulf said accepting the advice would have a “chilling” effect on city nightlife.
“People say we have a decent music scene. We do,” he said. “We don’t have a great music scene. We have a lack of venues and especially eclectic, small venues that some of these small local performers can go.”
Mary Carbine, the Executive Director for Madison’s Central Business Improvement District, said the city attorney’s advice goes against BID’s mission to sustain a healthy mix of businesses downtown.
“Making this more restrictive, like by requiring 100+ capacity or saying a business can only be open when operating entertainment is going to discourage innovative businesses,” Carbine said.
The alcohol licensing introspection is part of a larger initiative to more precisely address alcohol-related issues through policy, such as reducing violent crime and over-consumption.
Jennifer Lujan, a public health nurse at Public Health Madison and Dane County proposed creating a coalition of stakeholders to formulate the most effective strategies, which Woulf said could be of value, although attempts to assemble such bodies have failed in the past.
“The two or three major ones have morphed into something that has turned into essentially a lobbying body for anti-alcohol causes and I don’t think that’s the right approach to ... reducing harm,” Woulf said.
However, he said the timing is better now, and emphasized the importance of the university’s involvement in the endeavor.
Woulf said the ALRC and the city attorney’s office will hopefully reach a compromise before the entire plan goes into effect April 1, 2014.