Janesville ditches festival fences downtown

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

JANESVILLE—First, it's beer without fences at festivals in downtown Janesville.

Next year, special events could go fence-free citywide, one city council member suggested Monday.

The council on Monday approved an ordinance that exempts downtown festival organizers from having to use fences to cordon off areas events used to serve beer, wine and malt beverages.

In a unanimous vote, the council threw out a years-old rule tied to the city's Class B temporary event license ordinance that required 4-foot-tall orange plastic snow fence around areas where alcohol is served at special events.

Some council members said the move would help create a more inviting environment downtown and make it easier for event organizers to get volunteers involved.

Council member Doug Marklein said he'd like to see alcohol-serving festivals go fence-free citywide.

“I would like to extend this to the entire city, not just the downtown. There are organizations that may want to have a similar gathering outside the downtown area. They should have the same rights as downtown businesses do,” he said.

Marklein said he'd like to see city staff bring a recommendation “to extend it (the fence exemption) citywide—maybe after one year of trying it downtown.”

One downtown business group, the Janesville Downtown Development Alliance, will serve as a guinea pig to see how the new ordinance works.

The group is organizing Rhythm on The River, a downtown music festival planned for August.

Downtown Development Alliance Chairwoman Britten Grafft told the council Tuesday that in the past, organizers have been discouraged by the work it takes to put up fences at special events that serve alcohol.

Grafft said the new rule would make it easier to get new festivals off the ground and keep volunteers interested.

The group plans to block off part of Main Street in downtown for Rhythm on The River and use signs to define the festival area.

Under the new ordinance, organizers would be required to use barricades or fences to show event boundaries. The event would have to be marked with signs showing the limits of where people could take alcohol.

The ordinance also requires people to show their IDs to organizers when they enter festival areas downtown. Anyone consuming alcohol would have to wear a wristband to designate they are of legal drinking age.

People could move freely throughout a designated festival area downtown with plastic cups of beer or malt beverages. They could buy drinks either at a beer tent or at taverns within the festival area.

Plans for festivals would have to be reviewed and approved by city staff including the parks and recreation department, the police department and the city's alcohol license advisory committee, officials said.

Sarah Johnson, coalition director of the anti-substance abuse advocacy group Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change, urged the council to add rules to the ordinance that would bar volunteers who serve alcohol at special events from drinking alcohol during the events. 

Johnson said that could cut down on people getting over served or served underage.

Johnson's suggestion didn't fly with the council. Some council members, including Jim Farrell, pointed out that the city doesn't prohibit tavern bartenders from drinking alcohol at work.

“To have more stringent levels of control for an event like these, I just don't see it,” Farrell said.

It's not fully clear what areas the city would consider “downtown” under the new ordinance.

City Management Analyst Max Gagin said the city purposely did not define boundaries of downtown in the ordinance. He said planners could change the scope of areas now considered Janesville's downtown.

“What we define as the downtown could shift over time depending on whether development would occur,” Gagin said.

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