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Magic may roll to a stop for the bus

BY CHRIS CURTLAND | OCTOBER 09, 2009 7:20 AM

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Iowa City’s epic Magic Bus has rolled to Miami, Las Vegas, Key West, the Indy 500, and Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Bowl in 1991.

But when this year’s football and tailgating season ends, it might stop, drop, and roll to the junkyard.
The future of the Magic Bus, a famous party hub on game days, has become bleak, with its familiar stomping grounds at 817 Melrose Ave. sold from V & N Rentals to Outside Properties for $500,000 on Aug. 25, according to the Iowa City assessors’ website. The property’s total value is appraised at $179,290.

The transaction had only been a rumor until Jeremy Freerks who owns and runs the bus with the Iowa City Rugby Football Club, confirmed the closing in a Facebook message to nearly 850 members of the Magic Bus Fan Page. It’s unlikely the bus will be at its usual location next year, he said.

“The new owners have been demanding more money to rent the property — so much more that rather than go broke, break even, or raise prices, we were going to shut the gates on it forever,” Freerks wrote in the message.

Those magic gates have been open since 1991, when local businessman Brian DeCoster started it all a senior.

“Well, I was a senior for more than one year,” he said.

With DeCoster as conductor, the bus journeyed across the nation. It served as the venue for acclaimed music acts Molly Hatchet, Head East, and Rick Derringer, all of whom played on the roof of the bus, he said.

“I have a lot of fond memories, but it got to be too much work,” DeCoster said on Wednesday, adding he decided to raffle off the bus in 1995, which marked what he thought was its “final demise.”

Since then, DeCoster said the Rugby Club has put “its stamp on it,” which includes attracting local musicians and raising money for charities.

“I didn’t expect anyone to take it over,” he said. “When I heard the Rugby Club was going to keep the party going, it was great news.”

From the cover charge, the club has donated about $150,000 to several charities including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Variety Club of Iowa, and Johnson County Crisis Center, Freerks said.

“It was a good run,” he said, he’s negotiated a price with the new owner to stay open for the remainder of this season — which is why Lee Lingenfelter, a UI junior in civil engineering, feels a sense of urgency to finally see the bus. He said he’s never been to it, but heard “it’s a crazy time.”

Daniel Stein, a UI alumnus who used to live at 817 Melrose Ave., knows about that madness first-hand.

“The craziest part was trying to keep drunk people from using the bathroom in our house,” he said.

For Dan Klock, a UI senior in psychology who goes to the bus every weekend, the good times on the Magic Bus are even wilder.

“It’s nuts with the live bands, girls everywhere, and as much beer as you can drink for $10 at 10 in the morning,” he said.

Stein, DeCoster, and Klock all said they plan to check out the Magic Bus scene this Homecoming weekend. It may be one of their last chances.

“We’ll try to give it a proper send-off,” Klock said.


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