Alcohol partnership seeks more bar owners


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Partnership for Alcohol Safety officials want to build more effective relationships with Iowa City’s bar owners.

Members said on Thursday they hope broadening the group’s membership to include more bar owners — in addition to health-care providers, residents, and neighborhood groups — will allow it to take a more active role in dealing with alcohol-related problems in Iowa City.

The move comes just months after a hard-fought battle over the 21-ordinance, which the group remained neutral on, divided many bar owners and students from city and University of Iowa leaders.

Twenty members of the partnership — made up of University of Iowa and Iowa City officials as well as students and business owners and intended to address alcohol-related issues in Iowa City — met in a closed session on Thursday to identify four areas of focus: promoting policy and legislation, addressing issues in neighborhoods, diversifying downtown, and broadening the group’s membership. Officials briefed the media after the retreat.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said the partnership’s newly established mission statement should resonate more with bar owners.

“The Partnership for Alcohol Safety exists to identify and advocate strategies that reduce high-risk drinking and promote a vibrant downtown,” the statement reads.

But Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., was the only bar owner in attendance Thursday.

“I think its essential that we have more bar owners on board with this,” she said.

Though the partnership remains neutral on the 21-ordinance, UI Vice President for Student Services Tom Rocklin said it has affected the group’s efforts.

“We do think it has changed the nature in what’s to be done,” he said. “It has changed the content of discussion.”

Neighborhoods with large numbers of students are one area the group would like to know more about.

“We don’t have a good definition of problems in neighborhoods,” Rocklin said.

Officials will seek student input for solutions to any problems that exist, he said.

Members will develop standards and issue reports to measure progress — though they didn’t share any specific benchmarks.

The partnership’s goal is to not implement any changes but to provide ideas and suggestions to key groups and individuals who can take action.

“It’s important to recognize this is a forum … [and] has a unique ability to bring leaders of various forms into the discussion,” Hayek said, noting the partnership has no legal authority but its access to community leaders will be helpful.

Hayek said the city has a working relationship with the Iowa Alcohol Beverages Division and will look for ways to work with local government officials. Hayek called the officials’ ability to crack down on bars and liquor licensing “severely limited.”

Originally established in 2009, the partnership committed to exist for at least four years, but Cohen, Hayek, and Rocklin agreed the committee is here to stay.

“The things this group is talking about will take years to establish,” Hayek said.

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