Champaign’s Liquor Advisory discusses sidewalk cafes, bars

By Kathleen Foody

The Champaign Liquor Advisory Commission held its monthly meeting Tuesday morning to discuss two new issues facing Campustown bars and restaurants, sidewalk cafes and happy hour regulation.

Kevin Philips, zoning administrator in the city’s division of planning, and Rick Marley, assistant city engineer for the transportation section, answered questions from the committee regarding sidewalk cafes.

“We took baby steps when the decision was made to allow these types of cafes downtown,” Philips said. “But there are even more concerns in Campustown, especially on Green Street.”

He said easier availability of liquor to underage drinkers, physical confrontations, items being thrown into traffic and the presence of cafes during regular bar hours are all important factors to consider.

William Riley, the commission’s chair and interim vice chancellor for the University, said he would like to see the development of outdoor cafes in Campustown mirror the development of the downtown cafes.

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    “They need to find places likely to succeed, have an assessment period and then allow expansion of the project, whether in regards to hours or regulations for furniture and utensils,” he said.

    Philips said the city has discussed limitations that may be necessary for Campustown sidewalk cafes, including requiring establishments to remove their furniture by a certain time or to only use plastic silverware and cups.

    Josh Reed, the representative for the Illinois Student Senate on the commission, said the plan is a good thing for Champaign.

    “I have some reservations on whether or not it can be done on Green Street,” Reed, a graduate student, said. “But the city has the right things in mind.”

    The city hopes to have a plan in place by May and sidewalk cafes may be in use by August 2006.

    An ambiguity in Champaign regulations was also questioned at Tuesday’s meeting.

    Joe Hooker, assistant city attorney, said there have been several instances of confusion stemming from licensees not understanding when an event qualifies as a private party, especially when it is marketed to the public. This usually happens during happy hour.

    “There are gray areas,” he said. “At this point we are not sure whether we would like to make the regulations more stringent or simply clarify state laws.”

    Riley said he is aware of instances where proprietors – in Champaign, not just Campustown – turned over space to a promoter who publicly markets an event.

    Recently a promoter rented out an area in a downtown bar for a private party, but passed out leaflets to the general public. Attendees were required to buy a ticket in exchange for access to an open bar, Hooker said.

    “Making sure that licensees understand when an event does not qualify as a private party and must abide by happy hour requirements,” he said. “A general clarification of the types of events is required in the regulations.”

    Efforts to ban happy hour activities are not expected.

    Reed said he believes any attempts to ban happy hour would ultimately hurt both bar owners and groups that hold private parties.

    “That would have a high possibility of over regulation in my mind,” he said.