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Banning new bars won’t end dangerous drinking

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 14, 2009 7:30 AM

A plan to put an end to new bars springing up downtown will likely do little to address binge drinking or the recent string of downtown fights.

A proposal, which the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission will soon consider, may eventually prevent new bar owners from setting up their businesses within 500 feet of established bars. The proposal also addresses liquor stores, calling for new stores to be at least 1,000 feet from existing alcohol outlets. UI officials hope that requiring drinking establishments to be a certain distance from one another will help to curb binge drinking and prevent violence downtown. They also said they hope to balance out the type of businesses in the downtown area. Proponents of the plan cite a recent market study conducted by the city, which found the substantial number of drinking establishments is creating an imbalance in the types of businesses downtown.

We agree with local and university officials that there are things that can be done to prevent such rampant binge drinking. However, preventing new bars from being near the city’s older bars will probably do little to facilitate a solution to the drinking problem. This measure will not reduce the number of bars downtown; it will only prevent new bars from opening.

There are already plenty of bars in the area that have their own host of problems. New bars are no more likely than established ones to serve patrons who may later become inebriated, binge drink, and involve themselves as either victims or assailants in violent brawls. Turning new bars away from the area won’t improve the environment of the other drinking establishments. “New Bar A” may have to set its sights on a new city to set up shop, while “Old Bar B” still houses the same number of drunk, violent patrons on a nightly basis.

We must also keep in mind that bars themselves are not the enemies. Despite the fact that there are probably certain bars that have higher incidences of violence and criminal behavior, there are bars that have proven themselves to be home to peaceful drinking. And although bars have gotten a bad rap over the past few months, they nevertheless bring a large amount of business to the city. The economy may be in a rut, but the bars still rake in large sums of money. Those bars that can provide safe fun for their patrons should still be allowed to prosper.

A variety of businesses can be a positive thing in any city. The wider the variety of businesses, the wider variety of customers the area creates, and thus, the more the city will profit. There are many bars in downtown Iowa City. But there are also many shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Perhaps the problem is that very few of these businesses stay open past 5 p.m. After these businesses close for the evening, the focus of downtown is obviously the bars, the only businesses that are open. If the community intends to create a wider variety of entertainment, one way it could do this most effectively is by drawing people into venues that operate past 5 p.m. and coaxing them away from the bars. What better way to stimulate the economy than by encouraging bars to compete with other alcohol-free businesses in the area? We do need to find a solution to binge drinking and violent assaults downtown, but putting a stop on new bars isn’t it.


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