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City shouldn’t ban irreplaceable Melrose vendors

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The environmental symbiosis once enjoyed by tailgaters and Melrose Avenue homeowners has been irrevocably disturbed by a new memo on behalf of the Melrose Avenue Neighborhood Association that suggests, among other things, an end to game-day vending.

While it may sound like a further crackdown on game-day festivities, the memorandum submitted to the Iowa City City Council by the Housing and Inspection Services regarding vendors on Melrose Avenue may actually prove helpful to tailgaters in the long run — as long as the memo is not taken to its more draconian extreme.

An April 12 memo sent to City Manager Tom Markus regarding the presence of commercial vendors on residential properties during Hawkeye football games did just that. Douglas Boothroy, the director of Housing and Inspection Services, listed a number of occurrences during last fall’s football season that prompted the Melrose Avenue Neighborhood Association to seek resolution: noise, traffic congestion, damage to residential property, and lack of permits in the housing-zoned area finally broke the camel’s back. The Executive Committee, therefore, requested that all commercial vending (not tailgating, per se) be “eliminated.”

Instead, Boothroy submitted three alternative proposals to the council: “No change in the city’s current enforcement practice,” remove all commercial vending stations as per the zoning code, or change the code entirely to “allow commercial vending only along Melrose Avenue on football game days” — with the caveats that alcohol not be sold and vendors must acquire permits beforehand.

(Unsurprisingly, the second option was favored in the memorandum.)

The council is slated to discuss these options during tonight’s work session.

Moving the vendors off Melrose Avenue and into the Kinnick Stadium parking lot, as recommended in the memo, might not be quite the apocalypse tailgaters fear. It would remove congestion and game-day revelers from the road, would conglomerate the vendors in one area, and would ostensibly reduce the amount of trash and destruction from the front lawns of Melrose homeowners.

But eliminating Big Ass Turkey Legs or further marginalizing the Magic Bus would be the best possible way for the City Council to further alienate Hawkeye fans, from families to fervent students.

“What’s offensive to me is that people are making the broad-based statements that the vendors are making the problems,” Chuck Ford, the vendor of “Big Ass Turkey Legs” fame, told The Daily Iowan on April 14.

Frequent tailgater Ashley Long agreed. “It would take away from the atmosphere and essence that is Hawkeye football and tailgating,” she told the DI Editorial Board. “Everything’s a mess in Iowa City during football games; what’s so bad about T-shirts and big ass turkey legs?”

As the tailgating tradition has existed for some time now, it is reasonable to assume that people buying or inhabiting homes along Melrose are aware of the fanfare game days bring. This is not to say they cannot enjoy safety from property destruction or be less insulated from raucous Hawkeye football enthusiasts, but living along the tailgating-heavy street requires some compromise.

And while Boothroy and company contend that commercial activity has expanded unsustainably in recent years, even Mayor Matt Hayek has expressed concern. Tailgating is a decades-long tradition that many Hawkeye fans hold near and dear to their hearts; changing the face of this beloved institution would be another knife in Iowa football.

Instead, the City Council would do well to consider a permit system for commercial vendors and entities (apparel sales, kabobs, and magical buses), thus allowing the time-honored tradition of Hawkeye tailgating to continue but with some semblance of order, with priority given to long-standing game-day fixtures. Vendors also should not be able to buy out properties solely with the intention of turning them into profit-turning venues.

It’s important to consider the interests of both residents and football fans. If there truly is a problem, a solution should be found that is amenable to both parties, such as issuing specific permits to combat vendor overpopulation.

Eliminating kabobs, legs, apparel, and merriment altogether at the behest of a disgruntled few would only serve to detract from the celebrations.


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