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Comments by YACCS
Monday, January 01, 2007

The easy way

Andy Manis for The New York Times
There are more than 100 drinking establishments
in downtown Madison, home to the main state
university campus. In recent years thousands of
young professionals and retirees have moved to the area.

This Remaking of Downtown Has Downside

Published: January 1, 2007

MADISON, Wis. — This college town received what it wanted when, during the 1980s and 90s, it sought to reverse the decline of its downtown and to create a more vibrant civic center that would draw people at night and on weekends.

Since then, thousands of young professionals, retirees and former suburbanites have moved to glistening condominium buildings in the shadow of the state Capitol’s dome and only a few blocks from the University of Wisconsin’s main campus. And there is hardly a bad night for business near State Street, where university students and tourists pack restaurants and bars to capacity even on freezing weeknights.

But as downtown’s population and revelry have grown, so have overcrowding on the streets, vandalism and, most significantly, the police say, alcohol-related crime. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and other officials find themselves grappling with a problem that is a direct result of Madison’s successful transformation: how to tone down downtown.

As an urban issue, the downsizing of downtowns has little precedent because many cities, particularly in the Midwest, are struggling mightily to bring people back to their cores, not send them away.

Of course, many college towns deal with problems related to drinking. In the Midwest alone, La Crosse, Wis., and East Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich., are struggling with how to cope with the public mayhem often fueled by inebriated students.

In Madison, two Common Council members, convinced that much of what ails downtown can be traced to the proliferation of bars and restaurants known more for drinking than dining, introduced a plan intended to reduce the number of such establishments, and to restrict the approval of new liquor licenses.

The plan, which has the support of Mayor Cieslewicz (pronounced chess-LEV-ich), is preliminary and does not detail, for example, how many or which places may be closed. A final plan is expected to be ready for a Council vote in the spring.

That area of nearly one square mile — between Lake Mendota, Lake Monona and Blair and Lake Streets — has 120 places that serve only or mostly alcohol. They have a capacity of more than 11,000 people, city officials said.

The proposal has its critics, many of whom call it nothing less than modern-day Prohibition, and an assault on personal freedom and the free market that flies in the face of Madison’s traditional liberalism and Wisconsin’s entrenched drinking culture.

Some Council members say they worry that limiting the number of bars will only increase the number of drinkers who turn to house parties and makeshift taverns, where binge drinking and bad behavior often go together but behind closed doors.

“A lot of the activists on this issue revile alcohol, and their logic is equally fallacious as the original Prohibitionists’,” said Austin King, the president of the Common Council and a member of its Progressive caucus. “From a safety perspective,” Mr. King said, “I would much, much rather have young people drinking in the regulated environment of bars.”

You want a vibrant downtown, you can get it in several ways, increased shopping, a central tourist destination, but bars are the cheapest and the most problemmatic way to do that. You get the crowds, but you get the foolishness which comes with it.

posted by Steve @ 7:25:00 AM

7:25:00 AM

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