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Local bar operators challenging 21-only ordinance

BY ROBERT CROZIER | JUNE 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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Two men in the downtown bar business have taken a major step toward yet another citywide referendum on the issue of whether 19- and 20-year-olds should be allowed in drinking establishments after 10 p.m.

A petition started April 29 by Martinis owner George Wittgraf and Josh Erceg, a manager at the Union Bar, was submitted to city officials for review, Erceg told the DI Sunday.

He declined to comment beyond confirming that the petition had been submitted, and, despite several attempts Sunday, Wittgraf could not be reached for comment.

The Iowa City City Council is required by the City Charter to consider and vote on any measure for which a petition has been submitted, provided the petition meets certain requirements. If the council decides not to pass the measure, it will be placed on a citywide ballot.

But despite the recent action, City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said that the council is unlikely to change the ordinance.

He’s not alone.

Champion said she changed her mind after 10 years of supporting 19- and 20-year-olds ability to remain in bars after 10 p.m., putting the blame squarely on the people who own bars in Iowa City.

“The bar owners proved to me they couldn’t handle it,” she said. “They made all kinds of promises, and they’re not doing any of them … I would have not supported [the 21-ordinance] if they had done anything about the abuse of alcohol downtown.”

Throgmorton said that the 21-ordinance has been generally successful since going into effect on June 1, 2010.

“Prior to adopting the current ordinance, we were having some significant problems with excessive drinking in the downtown area,” he said, noting that the problems may return if the rule goes away.
“… Which is very harmful for those drinking too much and very harmful for the downtown, for Iowa City, [and] for the university,” he said.

Two people — one current University of Iowa student and one recent graduate — both cited safety as their concern, but they disagreed on what the rule should ultimately be.

“I know that underage kids go [to bars] to get people to buy drinks for them, and I don’t think that’s fair to me personally, because I waited until I was 21 to start drinking,” said recent UI graduate Caitlin Palar, 23. “I like to hang out with people who I know are going to be responsible with their drinking and not breaking the law.”

Palar said she is especially concerned with underage women who are at bars with older men.

“Is their safety being compromised?” she said.

But for UI student Elizabeth Harima, 21, the issue stands at the opposite side of the spectrum.

“When I was 19, I was a little more adamant about it,” the 19-advocate said.

Harima, an employee at the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave., said she remembered walking to parties far from campus when she was 19 and 20 years old.

She said that at times, when she would leave downtown for a party, she would end up walking home and getting lost.

“I just thought it was safer to be downtown,” she said.


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