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UI-Iowa City Partnership for Alcohol Safety sees decrease in underage drinking

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | MARCH 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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Drinking habits and behavior among students are changing, and officials said this could be the result of the continued diversification of downtown Iowa City.

The Partnership for Alcohol Safety’s 2012 annual report was presented at the group’s meeting on Wednesday. The report shows high-risk drinking, downtown service calls, and total citations dropped steadily between 2010 and 2012.

Calls for downtown disturbances declined 64 percent during the two-year period, and PAULA citations experienced a 46 percent decline. The report also cited a 26 percent drop in the number of disorderly house citations and for fights in progress. Calls for intoxicated pedestrians from 2009 to 2012 saw a 23 percent decline.  

Through the National College Health Assessment, the partnership is able to track student-drinking habits. Between 2009 and 2012, a 19 percent decline of frequent high-risk drinkers has resulted. Also, there was an 18 percent decline in the percentage of students drinking 10 or more days per month and a 16 percent drop in the average number of drinks consumed per drinking occasion.

“The goal of publicizing enforcement is to prevent problems from happening in the first place, rather than trying to “catch” people,” said Kelly Bender, the community harm-reduction-initiatives coordinator for Partnership for Alcohol Safety. “When we increase the awareness of enforcement efforts, we increase the perception that there is an increased chance of getting caught, which creates a deterrent effect.”

Bender said in the past, the use of educational initiatives alone has had little effect on behavior change. However, with recent downtown developments including alcohol-free alternatives such as FilmScene’s Scene 1 cinema and a Moen Group proposal for a bowling alley, along with expanded late-night options at the University of Iowa, new initiatives could thrive.  

Bender said the next meeting, set for May 8, will focus heavily on addressing growing concerns of the safety of house parties and the growth of the Beware, Be Safe, Be Smart education campaign.
Other members said the two new entertainment venues are just one piece of an overall complicated puzzle.

“A bowling alley is a nice start, and restaurants are fine, but you can really only go there for a certain number of hours,” partnership member and City Councilor Rick Dobyns said. “I’m still very concerned that there are 20,000 people who want to go to a bar or something like it. Marc Moen’s investment has been so small compared to what needs to happen.”

UISG City Council vice liaison Alec Bramel echoed Dobyns’ thoughts of greater diversification and said students often follow the leads of their peers in determining their late-night activities.

“What I’ve been getting at and hearing is that downtown is the place to go. We need new ideas,” Bramel said.

George Etre, a partnership member and owner of Formosa and Takanami, said given the strong profitability of bars downtown, it can be difficult to create other viable amenities.

“I have yet to find a profitable business model that doesn’t cater to alcohol-related activities,” he said.

Still, others pointed out that the ease of accessibility and the proximity of the UI make downtown a clear melting pot of opportunity.

Downtown developer Moen suggested the idea of UI business students creating plans for alcohol free destinations.

“As a developer, we’re always looking for uses that would be attractive for 20-year-olds and beyond,” he said. “The next step is how do you acquire property downtown for facilities? Buying property downtown is not an easy task.”


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