Mayor Paul Soglin addressed the city’s Plan Commission Monday to urge support for a moratorium on food and drink establishments in downtown Madison until the completion of a retail study of the area.
Soglin previously went before the Alcohol Review License Committee last month to request the ALRC stop granting A, B or C alcohol licenses, in addition to new entertainment licenses and the physical expansion of existing alcohol establishments, on State Street and the Capitol square.
During his presentation, Soglin referenced a Planning Department report that said downtown Madison has lost business and total traditional retail square footage over the last 20 years at the expense of an increasing bar and entertainment presence.
“Madison is undergoing considerable change when it comes to the commercial marketplace,” Soglin said.
The mayor cited multiple challenges for retail businesses, including the growing share of internet sales, beverage business growth and the influx of service companies into the area. Soglin also said retailers must incur extra costs because of the need to hold a larger inventory in-store than businesses like coffee shops.
According to the Planning Department report, the number of retailers on State Street decreased from 95 in 1989 to 63 in 2014. In the same time span, the number of bars increased from 26 to 61.
Soglin said the city had recently hired a consultant to conduct the retail study of the downtown area, which will take at least a year and possibly up to two years. Soglin emphasized, however, that allowing the city to gather more information on the vitality of downtown retail is worth the wait.
“We’ve got some real challenges, and we don’t necessarily have all the answers now,” Soglin said. “But what we’re worried about, as we lose retailers is further cascading...when you get more and more retailers together, it strengthens everyone."