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Licensing committee delivers a victory for Milwaukee's all-ages venues

The Milwaukee Common Council licensing committee has voted to remove the biggest obstacle preventing all-ages shows in the city. In a 5-0 vote Tuesday afternoon, the committee approved an ordinance change that would allow more small venues licenses to serve alcohol at all-ages events.

The vote corrects what was widely seen as an injustice. In Milwaukee you can buy a beer just about everywhere: at restaurants, movie theaters, sporting events and even many parks. But a 2003 ordinance prevented venues from selling alcohol at all-ages shows unless they were designated as an art gallery or had a stage that is at least 12,000 feet – far larger than what most small clubs have. And since alcohol sales are how most venues make their money, the ordinance effectively prohibited them from hosting all-ages events.

Among those who testified in favor of the change were musician Johanna Rose, Tracey Gessner of Girls Rock MKE, and Cactus Club promoter Kelsey Kaufmann, who noted that in order for that venue to book all-ages shows under the existing ordinance, it needed to move all its liquor from behind the bar into the basement.

Ava Gessner speaking at Tuesday's Common Council licensing committee meeting

Ava Gessner from the teenage band Negative/Positive also argued in favor of the amendment, arguing that the city needs to better support young artists. "There shouldn't be so many hoops to jump through, both for businesses trying to get these shows and for younger performers trying to get these shows and for younger people in the community who want to experience that art," she said.

Jim Rice, owner of Walker's Point Music Hall, testified that his venue was losing business to neighboring markets because of the ordinance. "I send probably two or three shows a week to Cudahy, or we don't get them at all," he said. "There's quite a bit of revenue for us or taxable revenue for the city that we're writing off."

The measure will now go for final approval to the full Common Council, where it seems unlikely to meet serious resistance given the licensing committee's overwhelming support for it.