Last week, the Urbana City Council presented their proposed plans to fully revamp the city’s liquor code, a process that has been ongoing since the middle of 2019. Mayor Diane Marlin and her team have been assessing the code because as time has gone on, the code has proven to be cumbersome and difficult to navigate. In last week’s city council meeting (specifically, February 3rd), Mayor Marlin discussed at length the city’s plans to revamp the entire code based on feedback from the community. There are a myriad of liquor license options, which, if you’re feeling up for it, can learn all about in the proposal linked above. With a variety of businesses looking to function within the structure of the laws set up by the city (and beyond that, the State of Illinois), the code has proven to be challenging at times.

As a result, Mayor Marlin and her team have worked for many months to make sure they are getting these revisions right. Ultimately, we see the work that the City of Urbana is doing to be a positive thing, not just because they are making the code easier for businesses to utilize and navigate, but they are paying attention to the feedback presented by members of the community.

Although most of the feedback about the liquor code has come from current liquor license holders, there was a brief moment where members of the community brought up important points. It centered around this specific item in the proposal:

No person under age eighteen (18) may remain on a Class A licensee’s premises after 9:00 p.m.

The City’s proposed plan was to raise the age from 18 to 19 after 9 p.m., which ultimately got people's attention, ours included. Right away, we thought of live music venues. A change like this would immediately change the way The Canopy Club, which sits adjacent to the home of thousands of incoming freshmen — most of who are 18 — operates. Canopy puts on all types of shows that appeal to young people, and this one line of text in a liquor code would be a big blow to their business model. It isn’t just Canopy Club, but all other venues with Class A licenses in Urbana that host live music: Rose Bowl Tavern, The Iron Post, Blackbird, and beyond. 

Thankfully, the change from 18 to 19 isn’t going to happen, but this portion of the proposal was a wake-up call. Our Editorial Board feels it’s an important topic to discuss.

This being strictly a proposal, a variety of feedback was fielded by the City of Urbana, and Mayor Marlin quickly stated that this was not going to happen, and the age to enter establishments with Class A licenses after 9 p.m. would remain as 18+. Soon enough, you’ll be able to read all about what the city has planned for their thoroughly-revised liquor code, but the important point we wanted to explore goes beyond the liquor code itself to the importance of recognizing how the code affects more than just the establishments that have the license to serve alcohol.

While analyzing the minutiae of the rules isn’t thrilling, focusing on the code helps our cities function properly and become more refined over time. These rules change the way we go about our daily life and navigate spaces such as restaurants, bars, movie theaters, music venues/performance theatres, multi-use spaces, art spaces, and beyond.

Above all, performance venues demand examination. When it comes to live performance on the whole, people attend the shows to actually watch the performances, not necessarily drink alcohol. However, the two are intrinsically tied when the performance happens to have a bar, and as such, requires analysis. The reason why the proposal of an additional all-ages rider in Urbana is significant is because as a community, we are recognizing that music venues, more often than not, have bars in them, but we want to allow promoters of live music to continue to curate positive cultural engagements for members of the community to engage with. People of all ages can legally consume live music, even though people of all ages cannot legally drink alcohol. 

The point is: Not all spaces are created equal. So, what exactly is the city proposing when it comes to performance venues? The addition of an all-ages rider on the City of Urbana’s proposed liquor code revisions, which will probably look something like this (taken from last week’s proposal):

Persons between ages of fourteen (14) and eighteen (18) may be allowed on a licensee’s premises without a parent or guardian to attend performances if the licensee has an all-ages live entertainment event rider. The live entertainment must conclude no later than 10:00 p.m. Persons between ages of fourteen (14) and eighteen (18) may be present only during the live entertainment or within one (1) hour before and after the performance.

Class A license may elect to permit persons age nineteen (19) and/or twenty (20) to frequent or remain in any public area of the licensed premises if the local commissioner is provided with a written notice at the time the licensee applies for or renews a liquor license.

We’re happy that the Mayor and her staff have been focusing on getting this right rather than getting it done and out of the way. Making sure promoters and patrons of live music are being considered is critical to the cultural vibrancy of our community. The City wants to encourage promoters and patrons alike to continue to experience live music, and are taking steps to ensure that the code not only becomes easier to understand but more flexible for licensees and patrons alike. 

Champaign-Urbana’s music history is rich, and the number of artists that have come from this place is no secret. That’s because we as a community assess the needs of those that populate it, and take action to ensure it continues to work. Though things change as time moves on, there’s no question that C-U does care about protecting spaces and people that provide access to this form of entertainment. This sort of change in the liquor code has already been enacted in Champaign, though sadly most music venues west of Wright Street have closed over the last handful of years.

Ultimately, this doesn’t mean that Urbana is behind. This is a big step in the right direction, and we applaud the City for diving deeper to make fixes based on feedback from its citizens to make a better situation for everyone. This is how a city earns cultural capital, and we’re enthusiastic to see it come to fruition. 

The Editorial Board is Seth Fein, Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.

Top photo by Anna Longworth.