January 12, 2010

As city thinks about limiting new bars, a committee splits on how many bars Racine should have

One alderman's attempt to limit the proliferation of bars in Racine is headed for a showdown before the City Council.

At issue are the number of Class B liquor licenses the city issues, and how much applicants have to pay for one of the licenses.

Alderman Greg Helding wants to make it more expensive to get a Class B liquor license - the one needed to run a bar or a restaurant with a bar - if the license exceeds the state-set quota on liquor licenses in the city.

OK, that's a mouthful. Let's break it down.

State law says Racine can give out 128 Class B liquor licenses and 22 "reserve" Class B liquor licenses. So what does that mean? There's two ways to see it:

1.) The city has a limit of 128 liquor licenses. The 22 "reserve" licenses are special and should be treated as such.

2.) The city has 150 Class B liquor licenses. There's no difference between regular and reserve licenses.

(There's actually a third option: The city could set a limit on its Class B licenses lower than the state-set limit, which is based on population. This may be the direction is headed this year.)

Right now, the city follows option No. 2. Racine has given out all of its regular licenses, and is now issuing reserve licenses. There is a $10,000 fee to get a reserve license, but the city refunds $9,500 of the fee, meaning the reserve license costs the same as a regular liquor license. (The city also doesn't treat reserve liquor license applications any different from regular applications. The only difference between the two is you need $10,000 upfront with the understanding most of the money will be returned.)

OK, this all sets up Monday night's Public Safety and Licensing Committee meeting. Helding proposed eliminating the $9,500 refund for the reserve licenses. The city is allowed to do so under state law, Helding said, and it would create a special, more expensive tier for Class B liquor licenses. In essence, it would be aligning the city option No. 1 above: the city has 128 liquor licenses, and if someone wants to exceed that number, it's going to cost them.

Helding's proposal ran into opposition. Aldermen Bob Mozol and Jim Kaplan voted against the measure saying it could cost new businesses, like a restaurant, too much money to get started.

"That $9,500 could be another piece of equipment in the kitchen," Kaplan said.

Aldermen Sandy Weidner and Aron Wisneski voted in favor of the proposal, but it still failed on a 2-2 vote. Alderman David Maack, who sits on the committee, was not in attendance.

The committee then voted unanimously to "receive and file" Helding's proposal, which heads to next week's City Council without the Public Safety and Licensing Committee's support. But that doesn't mean the proposal is dead.

It now heads to the full City Council, which can vote to override the committee's vote. Helding said Monday night he's not sure if he'll push for the council to consider his proposal or regroup and consider other ways to limit Class B liquor licenses in Racine, such as making it more difficult to exceed a locally set quota on Class B liquor licenses.


  1. I'll drink to that - I wonder how long before we get the Korean comments.

  2. This looks like a GREAT way to protect the current license holders from competition! Now if a new place wants to open they will have to be in Mt. Pleasant or Caledonia. But then most folks don't live downtown anyway so getting to the new restaurants will be easier, yet.
    Why not focus on enticing a REAL food store to West Racine rather than pursuing this puritanical tail chasing?

  3. 128 joints that serve food(?) and liquor?? That is an awful lot for just the city of Racine.
    Where are they all?
    Who do they serve?
    Why not keep raising the fee (or reducing the refund) until people stop paying for the license. Then you know the price was just right.

  4. Helding is a want to be Republican, just ask any true card holding member of the party! He is a anti-business Liberal!

  5. Helding is a want to be Republican, just ask any true card holding member of the party! He is a anti-business Liberal!

  6. No, Helding is a Republican that has an occassional bout of common sense. No room for that in the new Conservative Republican white club.

  7. We need businesses. Why limit restaurants that serve alcohol. This is Wisconsin. It is still legal to bring you child into bars. The whole thing is hypocritical. We need to get serious about being business friendly. Tourism does not bring in the money it should. We cannot be asleep most of the year waiting for the weekend when some Moe from Wilmette will spend the weekend here. We also shouldn't limit our business opportunities for the same tourist, keeping up charade.

  8. Yes, this is the land of 9 DUIs and still driving. The tavern league mafia etc.. Why are we so concerned with restaurants. It is a blessing anyone would consider opening a restaurant today in Racine. We need to be smart and flexible to make it. I too am tired of catering to tourists by keeping this place ultra quaint. They do not live here. We don't have a huge surplus of money from them. So it is time for more funding streams.