Petition Seeks to Repeal Iowa City's 21-only Bar Law

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

Bar patrons wait in line in front of Joe's Place Friday, September 29, 2006 along Iowa Avenue in downtown Iowa City. Iowa City's high concentration of bars in close proximity to the University of Iowa campus raises the level of heavy drinking, underage drinking, and drinking related crimes in the city.

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By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Two people associated with downtown Iowa City bars want a public vote on the city law that bans people younger than 21 from being in drinking establishments at night.

George Wittgraf, owner of the Union Bar, and Josh Erceg, a manager at Martinis, filed language for a referendum late Tuesday that proposes a repeal of the so-called 21-only law, City Clerk Marian Karr said Wednesday.

They need the signatures of 2,500 registered Iowa City voters on a petition to require the City Council to either adopt the proposal to repeal 21-only or send it to a public vote.

Wittgraf did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday. But Karr said Wittgraf indicated he did not expect to have any problem getting enough signatures and planned to submit the petition in a month.

The University of Iowa’s spring term ends in two and half weeks. UI students make up many of the downtown bar patrons.

If a valid petition is filed by June 10, the issue could be on the ballot in the November election, Karr said.

The city ordinance bans people younger than 21 from being in places with liquor licenses after 10 p.m. An establishment can receive an exemption by showing that its primary purpose is not the sale of alcohol and for entertainment venues that meet certain guidelines.

The City Council passed the ordinance in spring 2010 and voters upheld it, 52 percent to 48 percent, in an election that November.

Opponents argued the law would hurt downtown businesses and push drinking to house parties out in the neighborhoods.

Supporters say that those predictions have not come true and that crime and drinking statistics show the law has reduced problem drinking.

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