Locals ask City Council to consider culture in 21-ordinance debate

BY NORA HEATON | MARCH 30, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa City City Council passed its second reading of the 21-ordinance, 6-1, in the midst of a crowd concerned with more than just alcohol.

Of the more than 30 people who attended Monday’s special meeting for the ordinance, several spoke on behalf of Iowa City as a cultural center that thrives in those venues with more to offer than just alcohol.

Andre Perry, a booking agent at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., and founder of Mission Creek Festival, said Iowa City is a place of music, literature, and artistic tradition. The Mill, a restaurant/bar that frequently hosts music events and is a well-known hangout for Iowa City’s writing community, aims to preserve that tradition, he said.

“I’m not afraid of losing business,” he told the council. “I’m afraid of Iowa City losing culture.”

Studio 13 owner Brett Thomas said his bar, 13 S. Linn St., whose target audience are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, can be a haven for 19- and 20-year-olds who may not want to consume alcohol but rather want “the opportunity to meet other individuals like themselves.”

“We’re not a bar so much as a community center,” he said. “Kids use drag shows and dancing as an excuse to come out and feel normal.”

Mayor Matt Hayek assured the public that the council values Iowa City culture and said he remained “absolutely open” to discussion on how to preserve access to key musical, literary, and other cultural events downtown.

“The arguments about music, and protecting that to the extent possible for young persons, resonate with me,” he said at the meeting. “I feel that live music is one of Iowa City’s greatest attributes.”

Councilor Terry Dickens agreed, noting that Iowa City, unlike many other communities, offers live music downtown almost every night.

The ordinance’s sole opponent on the council, Councilor Regenia Bailey, also emphasized the importance of city identity, particularly for students.

“[City culture] is just as much a part of the education as attending the university,” she said. “That’s a critical part of why they’re drawn here. People say it’s a party school, but it’s also an opportunity for people to go out and find where the belong in the world.”

Other speakers at the meeting iterated public-health perspectives and economic concerns, many of which were also brought up at the ordinance’s first reading on March 23.

Members of the public voiced alternative options for how the city might curb underage drinking in bars.

Dan Tallon, a UI junior who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last year, proposed a system in which two-tiered bars serve alcohol on one tier only and monitor passage between the levels.

The council heard other ideas from the discussion as well, such as making individual bars with higher PAULA records 21-only and passing measures to ensure students feel safe to summon emergency medical personnel in the case of overconsumption at a house party.

Councilors appreciated the positive support, said Dickens, who publicly thanked Tallon for his proactive suggestions.

The City Council will issue its third and final vote on the 21 ordinance on April 6. If passed, the ordinance will likely go into effect June 1.

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