Union appealing exemption revocation

BY IAN MURPHY | MAY 01, 2014 5:00 AM

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Underage dancers can still spend their evenings under the flashing lights of Union Bar — at least until May 5.

The Union Bar owners are appealing the decision by city officials to revoke its entertainment exception to the 21-ordinance.

According to the city ordinance, the Union Bar can still operate under the entertainment exemption while the appeal is pending and until the city manager or a designee has issued a ruling on the appeal. The exemption was revoked on April 3. The appeal hearing is scheduled for May 5. 

If the revocation of the exception is affirmed, the bar has seven days to operate under the exception from the time the city manager’s ruling is put in the mail, according to the ordinance.

Assistant City Attorney Eric Goers declined to comment on the hearing and the appeal because the hearing could result in further legal action.

Union owner George Wittgraf said the bar has entertainment acts booked for Fridays and Saturdays for the upcoming weeks and will continue to operate with the exemption.

“We’re appealing because we don’t agree with the city decision,” Wittgraf said. “We think we have a strong case, and we should hopefully have it indefinitely. We foresee being 19 and up for the next few weeks.”

According to notice of revocation, the Union Bar had its exemption revoked because the PAULA-to-police-visit ratio was .267, which exceeds the required .25 ratio over 12 months to maintain the exemption.

However, Wittgraf said this ratio was over a 13-month period, rather than a 12-month period.

He also said he believes that the Union Bar had been checked unfairly and far more frequently than other venues with the entertainment exemption.

Union was checked 180 times over a 12-month period that ended April 1, including 12 times in March, according to the city bar-check report. Police issued 53 PAULAs over that time period, resulting in a PAULA to police ratio of .294

Five other establishments in central Iowa City have entertainment exemptions: Yacht Club, Blue Moose, Gabe’s, Mill, and Studio 13. Yacht Club was checked 40 times, Blue Moose was checked 112 times, the Mill was checked four times, Gabe’s was checked 37 times, and Studio 13 was checked 85 times during that same 12-month period.

“That’s kind of unfair,” Wittgraf said.

He estimated that the Union Bar sees 100,000 people through its doors each year, and said the establishment has only had 53 PAULAs issued.

“I think that’s a pretty good job,” he said.

City Councilor Kingsley Botchway was skeptical about the appeal.

“Our city attorney staff does a wonderful job following the ordinance set out,” Botchway said. “It doesn’t look good [for the Union].”

Mykel Shutts, the general manager of the Airliner, said the exemption could lead to decreased revenue from underage patrons paying cover to see shows at the door.

“I’m sure he’ll handle it,” Shutts said. “If they’re fighting it, they obviously care about it.”

Wittgraff said he hopes to keep the exemption permanently and said the bar will continue to operate with it.

“We have the exception,” he said. “We expect the city manager to rule on this matter with an open mind and to make a fair and well-informed ruling.”

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