Entertainment venue cancels Halloween weekend events after Milwaukee implements new capacity limits

NOW: Entertainment venue cancels Halloween weekend events after Milwaukee implements new capacity limits

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee's new COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings went into effect Thursday, Oct. 29. They limit capacity at bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.

The Miramar Theatre has been closed for seven months as the entire entertainment industry has been on hold.

Owner Aaron Ohlsson said the venue was scheduled to host its first ticketed events on Friday and bring in more than a hundred people, but the city's new capacity limits now prevent that from happening.

"We have hardly any revenue at all, so I finally decided to open up for Halloween, and this is what happens. These restrictions come out, they stop me from being able to have events that are going to generate revenue to help save this place," Ohlsson said.

Under the new Phase 4.2 of Milwaukee Health Department's "Moving Milwaukee Forward Safely" order, indoor events are now restricted to 10 people. Ohlsson said the Miramar has room for about 400 people, but these restrictions mean he could only have ten inside at a time.

"Our capacity and our square footage is much larger than most of these bars that are still able to continue at 100 percent, which isn't fair," he said.

The new order also caps outdoor events at 25 people, and political and religious gatherings at 100 people. Bars and restaurants without approved COVID-19 safety plans have to limit their capacity to 25 percent.

Ohlsson also owns Site MKE, a dance club. The new order prohibits dance floors, so he added seating and changed the club's name to "Sit" instead of Site.

"I submitted my safety plan six weeks ago and have not heard back from the health department at all. So therefore, according to these restrictions, I have to operate at 25 percent and everyone at my club has to be seated ... It's a dance club," Ohlsson said.

That's a story that Wisconsin Restaurant Association has heard from multiple establishments.

"They're kind of in that limbo and there's quite a few of them that may take a few weeks to a few months to get those through. So I think those are the restaurants that are probably the ones that are hurt the most by these actions," said Susan Quam, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

City officials said the new restrictions aren't meant to punish businesses but to save lives.

"I think the numbers that we see speak for themselves -- the rising cases, the rise in hospitalizations. We're in a different place in this pandemic than we were in April or than we were in July when we saw the second surge," said Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor of the Medical College of Wisconsin and director of medical services for the Office of Emergency Management.

"We know that any place you're going to have congregations of people in confined areas -- those are the breeding ground," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

CBS 58 asked Milwaukee Health Department officials if they would consider creating a program that would allow entertainment venues to apply for COVID-19 safety plans similar to those of bars and restaurants. A spokesperson sent CBS 58 a statement saying in part:

"The Health Department has had extensive discussions with venues and performing arts groups as recently as yesterday, and those discussions are continuing. This question was raised by the group yesterday. What they have been told is the Health Department is not in a position to institute a new safety plan approval process.

As cases are increasing dramatically along with hospitalizations and deaths, venues have a significant potential for disease spread. That said, we are very aware of the economic impact this pandemic is having on venues and performance groups."

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