Bar owners stress communication

BY IAN MURPHY | APRIL 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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Owners of several restaurants and bars downtown expressed frustration about a lack of communication among themselves and city and state officials at a forum held Wednesday.

George Etre, the owner of Takanami and Formosa, said opening up communication lines is essential for the Downtown District.

“We as an organization should really have a voice to where we know what’s going on and a lot of these things are getting changed,” he said. “And we should voice our concerns when these things do get changed.”

Among the issues, the owners said better communication was needed concerning the recent change to the 21-ordinance entertainment exemptions enacted at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Assistant City Attorney Eric Goers said the new rules will go into effect when they are published Friday.

The new rules clear up the ambiguity of the term DJ, who are not considered performers under the ordinance and can not be part of the 21-ordinance entertainment exemption. It now states that anyone who plays recorded music can be considered a DJ.

“When we passed the exception, the entertainment-venue exception, it was important for us that we were able to facilitate and foster live entertainment,” Goers said.

It then became difficult to distinguish between a DJ and a producer, he said.

The new rules also state venues with exemptions can have no more than one sale of alcohol to underage in the last five years, or the exemption would be revoked.

Goers said both the bar and underage patrons can be charged if they violate the 21-ordinance rules.

Etre said the Downtown District should work on keeping the owners involved in the changes and was unaware decisions were being made by the council.

Goers said there was a memo about the changes in the council packet this week.

Jim Bell, the owner of the Deadwood, said there are 23 different bureaucracies that bars and restaurants must comply with.

Representatives from the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division, the Iowa City police, alcohol distributors, and the Downtown District were also in attendance.

Bar owners were also concerned with where they can find data about bar checks and PAULA citations.

Iowa City police Sgt. Vicki Lalla said the data are available on the department’s website.

However, communication between the city and businesses was not the only issue. Bars and restaurants also expressed the same problem.

Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District, said the forum should also be used to create a collective voice for the bars and restaurants.

“It’s part of my personal goals, to find a path forward that suits these collective groups,” she said.
Bird said the conversation should be turned away from alcohol to recognize the other opportunities for the businesses.

“We’re the only organization that doesn’t have a group,” Etre said, “We have 42 individual voices.”

The owners could effect change if they chose to work together, he said.

“If we ever got on the same page and had one group with one voice, we would carry a lot more weight,” Etre said.

And at a time of great change, he said, conversation is even more important.

“These laws are changing, and we’re not paying attention,” he said. “And if we don’t, you’re not going to think it’s a big deal until it happens to you.”

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