During a community discussion Thursday, Mayor Paul Soglin made his case for a moratorium on new downtown alcohol licenses and listened to objections.

Under the moratorium, new alcohol licenses would be prohibited in and around State Street in a bid to encourage a greater retail presence. Business owners and community members said the moratorium would ultimately hurt the retail market by preventing vacant properties from being filled.

Promoting a vibrant retail community around State Street has been an important issue for Soglin in recent years. As more properties are occupied by bars and restaurants, Soglin has repeatedly said the family friendly allure of State Street is in jeopardy.

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Despite differences over how best to revive retail on State Street, business owners agreed that the city’s efforts, up to now, have been unsuccessful.

In comparison to other cities, Sandi Torkildson, owner of the bookstore A Room of One’s Own, said Madison has done a poor job at enticing retailers. She rebuffed the notion that online shopping has killed brick and mortar business.

“I have customers from kids with allowances to retired people and plenty of millenials,” Torkildson said.

Soglin said the moratorium would extend into 2018 and would give the community and city government time to come up with a long-term strategy to cope with a retreating retail presence on State Street. He argued the move would prevent further decay of the local retail market, but council members and business owners were not so sure.

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For starters, some landlords said they’ve tried to encourage retailers to rent their properties, but have encountered little enthusiasm. In addition, they said rental costs — which can average $14 a square foot for properties on State Street — can present an insurmountable obstacle to new retailers.

Critics of the moratorium said it would lead to more empty store fronts and further aggravate the problem for both retailers and other vendors on State Street.

Soglin’s proposal also seems to lack the political will for approval within the Common Council, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said. In its current form, Verveer said he can’t support the moratorium, but would be open to more limited restrictions on new licenses.

Verveer said the mayor’s proposal would be formally introduced by mid-May at the earliest.