In case you’re just joining us, Milwaukee needs more all-ages venues. Or, put another way, Milwaukee needs less-restrictive city codes that would make it possible for venues to host all-ages shows and simultaneously serve alcohol to patrons 21 and over. Tuesday afternoon at a meeting of the city’s Licenses Committee, that less-restrictive dream took a big step to becoming a reality.
Here’s the deal: In the past, performance spaces were not allowed to serve alcohol to folks 21 and over and also open their doors to folks under 21. But what about venues like Turner Hall, Pabst Theater, Riverside Theater, The Rave, and others, you ask? Those (large) venues got around the rule by being licensed as “centers for the visual and performing arts.” One of the requirements of the license was that venues had to have a stage larger than 1,200 square feet, or boast a “culturally significant display of artwork.” This kept many small clubs from qualifying.
But thanks to today’s meeting—and the efforts of Kelsey Kaufmann, Peter Murphy, and many others—venues only need to have a “designated performance space” to qualify for a Center for Visual and Performing Arts License. That’s it. Easy. Simple.
The amended code also includes some language about opening and closing hours. It now reads:
At a center for the visual and performing arts that provides live music performances on a stage or designated performance space less than 1200 square feet in size to an all-ages audience, which is subject to the curfew limitations set forth in s. 106-23 and the employment limitations of minors set forth in s. 103.78, Wis. Stats., underage patrons shall enter the premises no earlier than one hour before a scheduled performance and shall leave the premises no later than one half hour after completion of the performance.
There’s also a fee structure for new license applicants. It reads:
1. Each center for the visual and performing arts license shall be issued and shall expire on the same date as the public entertainment premises license held by the same premises.
2. The fee for each license shall be based on the maximum capacity of the premises established by the common council under s. 108-7-3:
a. 25 or fewer persons, or a premises without a specified capacity: $150.
b. 26-79 persons: $250.
c. 80-99 persons: $375.
d. 100-149 persons: $500.
e. 150-179 persons: $700.
f. 180-299 persons: $1,000.
g. 300-499 persons: $1,500.
h. 500 or more persons: $2,000.
The chair of the Licenses Committee, Ald. Nik Kovac, sponsored the new ordinance. Kovac noted that the previous code had been on the books for approximately 15 years.
Speaking out in support of the new code on Tuesday was a group of local musicians: Kaufmann, Johanna Rose, Conan Neutron, Ava Gessner from Negative/Positive, and Tracy Gessner from Girls Rock MKE. Kaufmann said that the Cactus Club had hosted approximately 10 all-ages shows over recent years, all of which required Cactus to stash its booze in the basement and lose out on beer sales.
Jim Rice from Walker’s Point Music Hall also spoke, and testified that his venue had lost out on shows that ended up going to all-ages venues in Cudahy. He said that he would be among the first new applicants.
The new ordinance was passed on a 5-0 vote. The Common Council will make a final approval at their regular meeting on October 15.