City zaps Union exemption

BY LILY ABROMEIT | MAY 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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Partygoers under 21 have only seven days left to spend all night dancing away in the Union Bar.

During a hearing Monday, Iowa City officials ruled to uphold the revocation of the bar’s entertainment exemption.

“It initially means we have seven days to continue to be exempt, so Friday and Saturday this weekend will be 19 and up, and then basically if we don’t do anything, we would no longer have the exceptions,” Union Bar owner George Wittgraf said.

City Manager Tom Markus said he decided to uphold the previous decision because he believed the bar was not meeting the city standards by exceeding the acceptable PAULA ratio.

To receive an exemption, an establishment must meet the required 0.25 PAULA ratio over 12 months. Union Bar’s PAULA-to-police-visit ration was 0.267.

Although the ruling won’t go into effect for another week, Wittgraf said he is thinking about appealing the decision at the district-court level.

“To be honest, we’re still deciding,” he said. “If we decided to appeal to the district court, then we could continue to be 19 and up on show nights.”

City Councilor Terry Dickens said he does not think the bar should appeal but instead should accept the verdict.

“They’re just trying to skirt the law and get through until the students are gone, [but] when it gets quiet during the summer, then they’re not going to be worried too much about having the bands and entertainment,” he said. “What they’re going to end up doing is end up ruining it for all the other venues that want to have music.”

Dickens said he wouldn’t be surprised if the city decided to get rid of the exemption to prevent future problems.

Additionally, he thinks other bars in the area should put pressure on Union, 121 E. College St., to submit to the decision in order to avoid this.

Wittgraf said although he was not surprised by the decision, he does think he has the right to appeal against what he considered an unfair hearing.

He would like to see a decision made by somebody who is not “biased” toward the city.

For this to happen, the he would need to take the case to the district court, he said.

“I think we have a strong argument to get it, but ultimately it’s up to a judge,” he said. “I think we would have a pretty decent shot at getting it.”

Meanwhile, Wittgraf said he wants transparency so people understand the situation.

City Councilor Kingsley Botchway said if the bar met the requirements, there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

“I think the guidelines are somewhat clear as far as how to treat this exemption status as far as the music, so if they fail to meet those requirements, then the city [can revoke it],” he said. “I’m assuming our city staff did a good job.”

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