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Janesville considering fence-free downtown festivals

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Neil Johnson
June 20, 2014

JANESVILLE—Barry Badertscher says business owners were skeptical when he told them he'd try to get the city to stop fencing in alcohol-serving special events downtown.

“The bartenders all laughed at me,” said Badertscher, who is vice president of the Janesville Downtown Development Alliance. 

For years, the city of Janesville has required organizers of outdoor special events downtown to erect 4-foot-tall, orange snow fences to hem in areas where alcohol is served.

It's a rule tied to the city's Class B temporary event license ordinance intended to curb underage drinking and keep people from roaming around with open intoxicants.

But that rule could change if the Janesville City Council approves a city staff recommendation Monday to exempt downtown festivals from the fence rule.

In a proposed ordinance change forwarded this month by the city's alcohol license advisory committee, special events downtown would be allowed to operate without fences around areas where alcohol is served.

Under the proposal, people at special events could meander downtown with plastic cups of beer or malt beverages they buy at taverns or designated beer tents. The rule would apply as long as organizers mark event boundaries with signs and sell wristbands to designate festival-goers who are of legal drinking age.

The Janesville Downtown Development Alliance and Badertscher lobbied the city for the change.

Badertscher also is on the alcohol license advisory committee and is leading the Downtown Development Alliance's efforts for Rhythm on the River, a festival planned downtown in August.

He believes the fence rule has, in the past, kept special events and festivals from taking off downtown. This is in part because large groups of people may feel corralled by fences, he said.

Badertscher said it's also costly and is a logistical nightmare for special event volunteers who have to set up fences.

“You can keep volunteers interested as long as the work is not too hard,” he said. “It's a lot of work to put up those fences.”

Along with Monday's public hearing, the city has laid out recommended rules that would require special event organizers to provide the city with maps that show an event's physical boundaries.

In a memo, the city says the onus would be on organizers to post signs at event boundaries to mark the limits of where festival goers can take open alcohol. The memo also suggests that fence-free special events could bring more people downtown and entice other groups to host events there.

However, the memo notes a lack of fences could burden police if people take alcohol to public areas outside event boundaries. It also states that people could perceive festivals lacking cordoned-off alcohol areas as not being “family friendly.”

Badertscher said Janesville police and fire department officials are “supportive” of the proposed change. He said if the council approves the move, he'd meet with the fire and police departments to discuss how to plan events and avoid potential problems.

One potential problem could be people at events taking alcohol into downtown businesses other than taverns, he said.

“Business A might think that's the greatest thing in the world, but another business might say, 'No, that's not cool,'" Badertscher said. "We've got to make sure we're being respectful of everyone."



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