Alderman Eleanor Revelle (left) has suggested a two drink per person limit if the City approves a new liquor license for special events at Northwestern University's Welsh-Ryan Arena, a provision Alderman Ann Rainey (right) says she would never support. RoundTable photo

Aldermen are following up their approval of a controversial request allowing Northwestern University to hold more special events at Welsh-Ryan Arena with consideration of another proposal that would allow liquor service at that venue too.

At the Nov. 25 City Council meeting, aldermen redirected the issue to their Administration & Public Works Committee for further discussion after Alderman Eleanor Revelle, in whose north central Seventh Ward Welsh-Ryan is located, raised some concerns about the proposed ordinance.

The University, through its exclusive caterer, Levy Catering, has requested a change to the City’s liquor code to allow for the sale of alcohol at Welsh-Ryan.

The current R liquor license covers the University area, but does not permit the sale of alcohol to attendees of sporting events, explained Hugh DuBose, Assistant City Attorney, in a memo to Council members.

Northwestern officials made their original request for a change in the liquor status in May. But the issue had been held on the Council floor while aldermen debated whether to grant the University’s request for special zoning to hold more commercial and professional style events at Welsh-Ryan.

Evanston City Council members voted 5-4 in favor of that request at their Nov. 11 meeting despite strong opposition from residents in neighborhoods  around Welsh-Ryan who say game-day events there and Ryan Field are already causing  parking, traffic and littering disruption.

Discussing the liquor request at the Nov. 25 meeting, Ald. Revelle said the proposed ordinance, which came down from the City’s Liquor Commissioner Mayor Stephen Hagerty, is lacking “some very important restrictive details that are included in our liquor code for some other similar classes. In particular, I looked at the language and code that governs the sale of alcohol at in cinemas, at commercial indoor recreation facilities, in theaters and for live musical performances.”

In addition, she said, “there’s no mention of hours of operation, no provision for the hours of permitted alcohol sales – for example, from one hour before a game or concert begins until half an hour or one hour before the scheduled end of an event.

“We have specifications that alcohol should be dispensed in plastic containers and shall not be removed from the premises,” she continued, “and that no alcohol should be brought on to the premises or consumed on the premises, other than those sold by licensee and I suggest that this is an important requirement.”

She said types of alcohol should be specified, too, noting that some classes of licenses permit the sale of beer and wine only.  Normally this prescription should apply to the main arena at Welsh-Ryan only, she said, and if the beverage service is different for the Wilson Club, the private club which overlooks the basketball court, “this should be addressed as well.”

Several of the City’s liquor licenses specify BASSET (Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training) for employees involved in liquor sales, emphasizing alcohol consumption is limited to those 21 years of age, she said.

Ald. Revelle also made note of one other issue, not part of the City’s Liquor Code, “but something that should be considered here – a limit of two beverage drinks per person at the special events.”

“That’s very common in the way alcohol sales are handled at other universities,” she told aldermen.

Ald. Revelle originally suggested that the proposal be sent back to the City’s Liquor Commission for that group to consider changes to the ordinance.  Ald. Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested that the issue remain with the Council’s Administration & Public Works Committee and be dealt with there.

Ald. Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested that until the City gets an applicant for an event, there will be time to make changes to make the proposal more clear.

For now, “we don’t even know whether Northwestern wants to have liquor when there is a game on. We know this is really targeted to special events – we know they cannot have a special event without liquor. So unless we get this on the book, they can’t even start booking events.”

Further, “I would never support two drinks per person,” she said. “If you’ve got 3,000 people, how are you going to keep track of two persons to drink per event? I have no problem with one hour before and one hour after, or stopping drinks an hour or half an hour before the concert ends, or something like that.”

She warned against “creating the wheel,” on the issue. Levy, the caterer in this case, “does this all over the country. This is not new.”

As for the Wilson Club, “We’ve got restaurants on Central Street that are causing problems,” she said. “So think about that.”

Ald. Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said resident concerns expressed during the special events discussion, raising alarm about “seven thousand people who are going to be drinking and they’re going to be drunk, they’re going to go out and destroy the neighborhood – that’s not going to happen.”

On the other hand, “we do want to put protections in place for the neighborhood.”

Ald. Fiske confided that, living right off campus, she has had to deal with some of the behavior concerns voiced by residents.

 “I deal with it 24/7,” she said. “I love the Northwestern students, and they can pee in my yard, and every time they do they’re always very pleasant about it. But it just is … it’s not something we need to get totally worked up over. We just need to be practical about this and figure out the best way forward both for the ordinance that we pass, and for the event themselves, and for everybody we hope is going to be attending these events, as well as for the neighborhood.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.