Community expresses frustrations with Olbrich Biergarten project

By Maija Inveiss, reporter
Community expresses frustrations with Olbrich Biergarten project
Maija Inveiss, MAdison Commons

During a tense but lively community meeting for District 15, the neighbors and community members near Olbrich Park addressed their concerns for the construction of a German-style biergarten.

The proposed owners, the BKM Group, plan to transform the Olbrich beach house into the biergarten. If approved by the city council, construction on the Olbrich Biergarten would begin as soon as weather permits with a goal of opening May 2017.

The Parks Commission selected two proposals for the beach house in Olbrich Park. One is from Rutabaga Paddlesports, which works with a couple parks around the area and rents out water equipment. The other proposal is the biergarten. The two will work alongside one another.

Ald. David Ahrens, District 15 held the meeting Dec. 8 to provide the community with an opportunity to speak with the proposed owners and Parks Department staff. Ahrens said the goal was for the BKM Group to describe the proposal and answer some of the questions from the community.

About 60 people packed into the church, many who not only wanted to learn about the project, but also wanted to express their negative criticisms and demand answers to larger questions.

Mike Bare, one of the co-owners of the BKM Group, said the biergarten would be open seven days a week during its operating months. He said it will be strict on a 9:30 p.m. last call and prompt 10 p.m. closure, in compliance with park rules.

“For me, this about creating a community, a space that’s enjoyable and open to everybody,” Bare said. “It’s not about making money. It’s not about anything else. It’s about creating a place that’s going to be interesting, fun and enjoyable for all of you.”

The Olbrich Biergarten proposal has been met with heavy discussion and controversy from the community. At the Alcohol License Review Committee meeting on Dec. 8, many community members for District 15 spoke in front of committee members. Ultimately the committee decided to refer the proposal to the next meeting in December after getting more information from the Parks Department.

One of the biggest issues for the community was the lack of hospitality experience with the three owners of the BKM Group. The Olbrich Biergarten would be their first project. Bare was upfront in the beginning of the presentation about their lack of expertise in the hospitality area.

Members of the community were also concerned about the noise level of people talking and the music as well as the amount of parking spaces. Bare said within the proposal, BKM Group doesn’t plan on building any more parking space. He also noted that they did a sound test to see the impact on the neighborhood and found it was not audible at all across the street.

Overall, there was a general concern over the addition of alcohol into an area of the park. Bare said minors will not be allowed in the biergarten unaccompanied and alcohol will not be permitted in areas outside of the garden itself.

Bare said they want to create an inviting space where members of the community can bring their own food if they wish and share tables with others.

“That’s really what we are looking for, a community coming together,” Bare said.

At the ALRC meeting on Dec. 21, the committee heard testimony and debated the topic for hours, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The committee delayed action on the issue and moved it to its Jan. 18 meeting.