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City moves to regulate Ped Mall noise, displays

BY IAN SCHMIT | JUNE 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Setting up tables and amplifiers on the Pedestrian Mall might cost a few bucks in the near future.

On Tuesday night the Iowa City City Council unanimously approved a measure that would establish a permit system for the use of tables on the Ped Mall and designate where the displays can be set up. The measure requires two more votes before it takes effect.

“There’s been a long-standing practice of setting up tables on the Ped Mall, but there have been no clear rules,” said City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes.

The measure would also put into place a permit system on the use of amplified sound on the Ped Mall and allows those with a public assembly or parade permit to sell goods and services and use amplified sound.

Currently setting up a table on the Ped Mall is allowed with the city’s permission as long as it is for a noncommercial use, but such requests have been administratively overwhelming, Councilor Susan Mims said.

But some local businesses say the problem the council is trying to solve doesn’t exist.

“It’s really never been a problem for us,” said Sarah Peters, the manager of the Wedge Downtown, 136 S. Dubuque St.

Even councilor Connie Champion, who has operated a clothing store on Dubuque Street, admits there has not been a serious problem with amplified sound on the Ped Mall.

But there’s always somebody who would object to the use of amps, she said, “and it only takes one complaint.”

The aim of the proposed measure is partially to relieve that administrative burden and also to ensure the free flow of pedestrians.

“When someone comes in wanting to set up a table, I want it to take about five minutes,” Dilkes said.

The measure would limit tables set up downtown to the outdoor service area by the Sheraton Hotel, 210 S. Dubuque St., and the perimeter of the Black Hawk Mini Park., but she said those details are not set in stone.

“We can do administratively the little details, but we just need the big picture for now,” Dilkes said.

Such regulations on tables would not affect large-scale city events, such as the Iowa City Jazz Festival and the Iowa City Arts Festival, Dilkes said, because the measure’s purpose is to benefit the city’s citizens.

“When you have something like the Jazz Fest, those issues go away, because the whole downtown is for it,” she said.

The council briefly flirted with the idea of banning tables outright, but the idea was rejected by the majority of the councilors.

“It’s symbolic as much as it is anything else,” Mayor Matt Hayek said. “I think it’s a valued opportunity down there. Yes, it’s more administration, but that’s kind of where I’m sitting right now.”

Councilor Mike Wright said the council could discuss a ban at another time if it becomes a problem.
Mims said Tuesday she was unaware of any set cost of the potential permits.


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