Letter to the Editor

BY DI READER | APRIL 15, 2009 7:30 AM

Bar measure lacks common sense

Iowa City officials are considering imposing a ban on new bars within 500 feet of existing bars downtown. I guess their idea is that if there are fewer bars, people won’t go out and drink as often. “Hmm … I’d go out to the bars if there were 30 bars within walking distance downtown, but because there are only 28, I think I’ll stay home and watch the Disney Channel instead.”

This poor attempt at logic is in line with every other effort the city has made to curb drinking in the last decade or two and misses the real point entirely. The reason there are so many bars downtown is that these businesses have a large enough profit margin to justify paying the high rent. The city would have us believe that there are dozens of businesses waiting for an open location downtown and that bars are somehow getting to the front of the line and snapping up all the prime real estate. But the truth is, non-bar downtown businesses have been disappearing ever since Coral Ridge Mall opened because they can relocate, pay significantly less in rent, and draw in more customers, who are attracted to free parking and an abundance of stores in which to shop.

So what should the city government do? Figure out ways to make downtown more attractive to non-bar businesses. Either effectively reducing rent rates downtown or figuring out incentives to make it worthwhile to put a business downtown seem like a good place to start. Maybe even free weekend parking. If the city bans new bars rather than making the downtown business climate more attractive, I think a growing number of empty storefronts is a more likely outcome than a wider variety of businesses.

Kent Carlson, UI associate research engineer

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