Partnership proposes changing 21-only food exemption


Zhongzhu Guo/The Daily Iowan
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Some Iowa City leaders said Wednesday they want to expand use of the PAULA ratio, a tactic used to curb alcohol issues downtown but that has already been struck down by state officials.

Iowa City’s Partnership for Alcohol Safety approved a four-prong proposal to change the process of obtaining and maintaining the food exemption Wednesday — which included resurrecting the PAULA ratio. The proposal, approved at the meeting, will be discussed at an Iowa City City Council meeting Aug. 2.

“I think that if we want to be in order for fall, we have some work to do,” said Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St., during heavy discussion at the meeting Wednesday.

Restaurants that serve alcohol are allowed to apply for an exemption to the 21-ordinance if their food profits are 50 percent or greater of their business revenue, but some members of the board said they felt the measures in place were not enough.

Cohen, along with other business owners, said she was concerned with how some downtown establishments have taken advantage of the ordinance.

“I feel that certain people are working around the law,” said Cohen, a member of the Partnership. “And by tweaking the exemptions, I think that will help to eliminate the problems that we have seen.”

City Councilor Connie Champion also said she had concerns.

“We have a loophole in the ordinance,” she said. “Not only are [certain restaurants] acting as bars after 10 p.m., but they aren’t policing themselves.”

In hopes of a solution, the partnership will submit a proposal to the city that would require businesses to maintain a PAULA ratio of .50 or below to be considered for, or to renew, a food-based exemption.

Those exemptions may be revoked for “good cause” if restaurants do not maintain a PAULA ratio below .50, judging by data kept by Iowa City and University of Iowa police.

New businesses will still receive a six-month grace period to prove the bulk of their sales do not come from alcohol, but they will be required to maintain 50 percent of their sales from food and keep their PAULA ratio below the suggestion.

If a business for sale does not already have an exemption, the new business would not start out with an automatic certificate, and it would be required to adhere to the 21-ordinance for six months before applying.

The proposal also suggested a thorough inspection of business records would be required to ensure that 50 percent or more of the business’ sales are from food and not alcoholic beverages.

The Airliner, 22 S. Clinton St., and Sam’s Pizza, 441 S. Gilbert St., are two exempt bar/restaurants with the highest PAULA violations, according to the May 2011 Iowa City police bar-check report.
Jim Rinella, the owner of the Airliner, said things have changed in the last eight weeks for his business.

“I have a procedure in place,” he said. “It’s a six step procedure. I have to have the right staff in place. It’s a moving target.”

In June, Rinella told The Daily Iowan he had changed his entry age to 21-only until he could find doormen he felt he could trust to ID accurately.

The owner of Sam’s Pizza was unavailable for comment.

The Summit Restaurant & Bar, 10 S. Clinton St., which is exempt for the first six months under new ownership obtained May 3, received seven PAULAs in its first month in May.

“We are going to work with the Police Department to get numbers down as low as possible,” said Summit owner Christopher “Topher” Wanek. “We”re trying to be proactive. We have extra high security and an ID scanner.”

Business owners also discussed ridding of the food-based exemption all together and possibly pushing back the time underage people are allowed to be in the bars from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m..

“It seems weird to me that a bar gets an exemption after 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., when food isn’t being bought,” said Marc Moen, a downtown developer and member of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety.

Though business owners said they felt the best solution to the problem is to eliminate food-based exemptions all together, the partnership did not move forward on discussion of doing so Wednesday.

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