When organizers were planning a kickoff event for the MDA Tub Run in June, they wanted residents to be able to enter and leave bars along a closed downtown street, drinks in hand.
About a week before the event, they found out that’s illegal in the city.
“It was horrible,” said Barry Badertscher, one of the organizers and chairman of the Janesville Alcohol License Advisory Committee. “We weren’t as successful because of it, for sure.”
Organizers had to scramble to get a temporary alcohol license to sell beer and wine outdoors, but it wasn’t ideal. They wanted to let the bars take care of selling alcohol, Badertscher said.
“It’s handy when you can just rely on the bars, and it’s good for the bars,” he said.
The ordeal prompted the city to re-examine its outdoor drinking laws.
“They were hoping to promote the downtown and the businesses downtown, but the ordinance didn’t allow it, which was the genesis of looking into this,” said Dave Godek, city clerk/treasurer.
City staff is proposing an ordinance that allows residents to drink outdoors during approved closed-street events downtown without organizers having to get temporary alcohol licenses.
If it passes as proposed, any downtown event that closes a street would be permitted to have outdoor drinking if organizers request it. Such events could include Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra concerts, farmers markets and National Night Out, although Godek doesn’t expect organizers to request outdoor drinking at family-focused events.
During the MDA Tub Run kickoff, organizers closed Main Street between Milwaukee and Wall streets. Four bars in the area missed out on potential revenue and exposure because of the existing ordinance, Badertscher said.
“We want to help those guys out,” he said.
People have been unknowingly breaking the law and taking drinks outside bars during city events for years, Badertscher said.
“Everybody was surprised (to find that was illegal) because it had been done forever,” he said.
Godek has spoken to downtown bar owners and organizers of downtown events. Most seem supportive of the proposed ordinance, he said.
“I don’t see it as being a huge change. It creates another option for downtown and attracting people to downtown for events,” Godek said.
The ordinance will go before the advisory committee Nov. 7 for a public hearing. The committee likely will make a recommendation to the city council, which will hold a second public hearing Nov. 13, Godek said.