The main question prompted by Mayor Paul Soglin in a meeting with student leaders on the future of the Mifflin Street Block Party was how to go about "threading the needle" to keep this year's event a safe and viable option.
The mayor made it clear that while he would not ban the party, the fallout from last year's party, with its high number of arrests, drinking citations and violent incidents, was still fresh in his mind.
Soglin told police officers, downtown alders and members of the Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison's student government, that the 2011 party ignored rules that had been commonplace for decades, leading to an atmosphere that was unsafe for attendees in the street, yards, and overcrowded porches along Mifflin.
Soglin said allowing open containers of alcohol to be carried in the event zone, rather than just on the block's private property, fostered a significantly different atmosphere at the event.
He also said attendees seemed to be consuming more alcohol earlier in the day, particularly before 11:00 a.m., which contributed to more arrests early on.
"The more time and the more liquor there is, the more [who will] be drunk," he says.
Additionally, Soglin says social media and the popularity of Freakfest, the city's ticketed Halloween event, helped draw a disproportionate number of out-of-towners to the Mifflin Street Block Party, in contrast to earlier years when the event attracted a majority of UW students and alumni.
Student government members presented the results of a survey of 3,000 students on how the historic pre-finals party should proceed, but Soglin pushed for a timeline to develop a firm plan to overhaul the event, saying plans would need to be approved by mid-March.
Madison Alcohol Policy Coordinator Mark Woulf advised students to carefully consider who would be involved in the planning for and sponsorship of the party. He also said a street use permit application would likely draw scrutiny if planners want to close off the street for the event.
Soglin floated the idea of reintroducing non-profit booths or speakers to the event, which he says could help provide a necessary "calming effect."
Ald. Mike Verveer said students have been working with members of the Mifflin neighborhood as well as Capital Neighborhoods, Inc. to discuss the future of the event.