21-only ordinance upheld


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A round of high-fives were exchanged and smiles beamed as victorious campaigners heard the news they had been waiting for — the 21-ordinance is not going anywhere.

Those in favor of keeping the policy, which prohibits people under the age of 21 from being in bars past 10 p.m., secured a majority of the votes in the Tuesday election with 66 percent of the vote.

The 21 Makes Sense group congregated at Bob’s Your Uncle, 2208 N. Dodge St., and the members, their eyes glued to the television, nervously awaited the results.

Co-head of the group and Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said he is pleased the ordinance will stay, because of what it will mean for Iowa City.

“This means that we don’t turn the clock back to the way it was before 2010,” he said. “We don’t return to a time when downtown was less safe, less vibrant, less balanced.”

The 2010 ordinance has been voted on three times in six years. This is the second time the ordinance has not been repealed.

University of Iowa Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin said he was thrilled to see the ordinance stay, and he was pleased with the voter turnout. 

“I’m pleased with the way the community responded to the opportunity to speak out on the ordinance once again,” he said. “I knew that the support was there, but I didn’t know that the turnout would be there, so I am pleased that a lot of people made the effort to vote today.”

Around 15 people wearing blue 21 stickers gathered around a television Tuesday evening. When the results came in, an attendant announced, “Time for a cheer,” and the whole room began yelling and applauding.

“I am thrilled,” said local psychiatrist and supporter Stacy Davids. “I think it’s an important issue for Iowa City. It’s good for the community, but also good for the young people, and as a psychiatrist I really feel that it’s a really good idea that people under the age of 21 not drink.”

A lot of history resides behind this ordinance. In 2007, the Iowa City community voted to keep the age of bar entry at 19. Three years later, the City Council voted to pass the ordinance and it became effective in June 2010. A November 2010 election backed the council’s decision.

Most recently, the council put the measure on the ballot in August.

University of Iowa Student Government President Katherine Valde said she was not surprised by the results of the vote.

“I think that a lot of students maybe voted against the ordinance back in 2010 but have changed their minds since then,” she said. “There aren’t many people who were around and know what the bars were like when they were 19 and up and so I think that when you kind of remove that generation of students with different sides, people don’t know anything different.”

The voting results were met with disappointment from opposing group Say Yes to 19.

“I am very disappointed in the result,” said Young Adults for Equality and Safety campaign commissioner Michael Kessler. “We were shocked when the gap continued to widen after the early votes came in.”

The 21 Makes Sense campaign said although the students’ efforts were valiant, they came up short.

“I’m glad that they got involved in something they’re passionate about,” Rocklin said. “I hope they’ve learned a lot from the process and they will carry that forward to other issues that they will be interested in.”

UI senior Kiera Morrill said her heart goes out to the businesses, and she noted the effects upholding the ordinance will have.

“I work in Mondo’s Saloon,” she said. “It’s disappointing because it would’ve been good for business. I have friends who aren’t 21 yet. I wish they could come out with us.”

Three local businesses, Vito’s, One-Eyed Jakes, and 808 Restaurant & Night Club, closed shortly after the ordinance was passed. FilmScene, a nonprofit theater, will open in December and take the place of Vito’s with the Velvet Coat.

Hayek said the culture of downtown Iowa City has changed dramatically since the ordinance went into effect.

“I think downtown has seen a number of great developments over several years, and 21 is part of that,” Hayek said. “I’m excited for our downtown and our community. I think we’re moving in a good direction.”

Those against the ordinance will have the opportunity to push for a vote again in two years, and Hayek said he is unsure as to if this will happen.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “In 2010 we got by with a very narrow margin victory. The margin appears to be much larger this time around. What that will do to future such efforts, I don’t know.”

DI Reporter Jake McCulley contributed to this story.

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