Wisconsin Dells considers open container proposal

Wisconsin Dells considers open container proposal

The downtown area of Wisconsin Dells is looking to reinvent itself as an entertainment district. While it’s known for family fun, the city is looking at ways to attract adults as well, through a new proposal that would allow people to carry open containers of beer on the street.

“The benefit is to try to keep people downtown.  It’s another amenity that if someone wants to spend time downtown and shop and walk around and have a beer or wine, to do that,” Mayor Brian Landers said.

Sweets and shopping keep customers busy during the day, but Landers said the struggle is keeping people around at night. A new downtown plaza with live entertainment is helping to change that, Landers said. Allowing open beer will only add to the attraction.

“You can go to the baseball park with your kids and have a beer. You can go to the state fair and have a beer or a glass of wine. I think it’s dependent upon the environment that we create. We are not creating a free-for-all by any means,” he said.

The new rule would allow people to grab a beer from a restaurant or bar and walk around the downtown area with it. The proposal would require drinkers to use city-issued “festival mugs.” The mugs would be clear, so the contents would be visible. The mug could be reused to purchase beer at multiple downtown locations.

“I could probably use that right now. It’s hot, and people like to drink beer. This town reminds me of a beach town and I think walking around with a cold beverage is a good idea,” Chicago visitor Mark Bulza said.

Currently, an ordinance prohibits open alcohol on the street. If passed, the city would try a pilot program first, before implementing the new rules full time. Tavern owners and customers have expressed concern about the plan and what kind of customers it would attract.

“The Dells during the summertime is packed, and the last thing we need is more alcohol on the streets,” Wisconsin Dells resident Robert Fulton said.

Keith Koehler owns Country Keg, a local restaurant and bar in town. Koehler said while he agrees the idea could increase business, he is concerned with how it would affect the atmosphere.

“One of the concerns I do have is if there would be fights and stuff like that, and what kind of clientele we might have drawn off that. We have a family-friendly environment here in the Dells and we want to keep that going,” Koehler said.

Landers plans to meet with the legislator chair and tavern owners to discuss the proposal. If the proposal is passed, the pilot program could start as soon as 2017.