Brothers Bar & Grill
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Brothers Bar & Grill is a campus bar located at the corner of University Avenue and Lake Street. The bar is currently fighting a decision by the Board of Regents to seize the building via eminent domain to make way for a $43 million University of Wisconsin music building.
While their sign says established in 1967, the first Brothers was founded in 1990 in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It was founded by brothers Eric and Marc Fortney--two UW alumni. Since 1990, Brothers has grown to include 17 locations in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky, Minnesota and Wisconsin, including the establishment located at 704 University Ave. in Madison.
In 2005, UW finished a new campus master plan that included plans for a music performance facility in the block in which Brothers is currently located. Following approval of the building from the Board of Regents in 2006, Brothers purchased the building from its previous owner for close to $2 million, beating out an offer from UW. In 2008, the Board of Regents granted the university eminent domain powers for the location, which gave them the power to obtain the private property for public use without the owner's consent (given a fair price is paid). At the time, UW System spokesperson David Giroux was quoted as saying eminent domain would be used as a last resort.
Following the granting of eminent domain powers, UW soon entered into negotiation efforts with Brothers. First, the university bought the adjoining property at 728 University Ave. in 2008. UW had not used eminent domain to seize a property since the 1960s. The university was granted powers in 1990 to obtain the land for Grainger Hall, but a deal was reached before use of eminent domain was necessary.
For the Brothers property, an agreement was eventually reached with the university that would allow the bar time to find a new location and move, with expenses being covered by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
The Brothers owners allege the Board of Regents then stepped in and began eminent domain proceedings to take over the land, dropping good-faith negotiation efforts. In September of 2009, Brothers accepted a $2.1 offer from the university. The property was valued at $682,000 at the time by the city, but citing the price they paid in 2006, the owners said the $2.1 million offer would only be enough to cover the costs of the building and their mortgage. This would mean moving to a new building would not be possible.
However, Giroux has claimed this to be false, saying the bar's request for $1.3 million in moving costs is far too high. Instead, he said the high price is an attempt to allow the Fortneys to pocket as much money as possible.
Papers served in late September or early October of 2009 said Brothers would have to vacate the building by March 23.
On Oct. 20, 2009, Brothers sued the Board of Regents, saying unfair condemnation tactics had been used. The bar owners also said the lack of a detailed timeline for the music building's construction meant it was disqualified from falling under eminent domain laws. They also cited a lack of definite funding for the building.
The UW System responded that the campus plan had been public for some time, and the Board of Regent's granting of eminent domain rights should have made it clear condemnation proceedings were imminent.
The suit will go before a judge this spring.
In late 2009 and into 2010, Brothers undertook a "grassroots" effort to mobilize support on campus and around Madison for the preservation of the bar. The owners took out ads in papers (some calling out Giroux and other individuals by name), appeared on local news channels, created and online petition and even unfurled a giant banner on the side of their building.
Some advertising efforts have focused on an anonymous donor who gave $15 million to go toward the new building. After the Fortney brothers pursued the identity of the donor to verify their ability to give the large sum, a judge ruled the donor had the right to remain anonymous. Since then, some ads have focused on saying the donor will leave a poor legacy with the destruction of the bar.
Giroux has been quoted as saying the campaign distorts facts to gain public support.
- Anonymous donor gives $20 million to music school
- Eminent domain "last resort" but possible
- Brothers sues Board of Regents
- Bar wants student support
- Bar criticizes anonymous donor