Iowa City’s 21-Only Ordinance Changing Downtown Culture

By Jami Brinton, Reporter

Iowa City Police Officer Kevin Prestegard writes a ticket to a under age woman who was found in the Blue Moose Tap House after midnight Friday, Aug. 27, 2010 on the Pedestrian Mall in downtown Iowa City. Iowa City's new 21 Ordinance states that people under the legal drinking age of 21 are not allowed in bars after 10 p.m. (Brian Ray/KCRG-TV9)

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By Richard Pratt

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa City’s downtown drinking environment is changing.

“Since the new 21-only ordinance, it’s not all that fun downtown,” said Chris Blick, 21, a senior at the University of Iowa. “The bars are pretty dead and some of our friends aren’t allowed into the bars.”

Lt. Mike Brotherton of the Iowa City Police Department said city’s new minimum bar entry age that went into effect in June is “obviously had an impact.”

Officers patrolling the downtown area Thursday night checked the ages of dozens of bar goers at five different bars before finding one violator – Christy Dunsmore, 20, of 432 S. Johnson Street – at the Blue Moose Taphouse.

Lt. Brotherton said officers are only issuing a few 21-only citations each night.

“I think we’ve gotten the message out that if you’re under 21, you don’t want to be in the bars,” he said.

Many persons under 21 are avoiding downtown simply because they don’t want to get caught and pay the $735 fine.

“A ton of people say that’s the reason that they’re not going downtown is because of that ticket,” said Morgan Alpen, 19, a sophomore at the University of Iowa.

Alpen is one of several college-aged individuals who gathered at a house party held at 702 Iowa Avenue late Thursday night.

“You know you’d always come and hang out at the house and then go down to the bars,” she said. “Now it’s like you’re here and you may go to a different house party or you’re here at the house the entire time. It’s a completely different ‘trip’ as you would say.”

Lt. Brotherton said not only are fewer people under 21 spilling into downtown, but new law has kept away out-of-town guests, too.

Police say that is a good thing.

“Ya, they were a lot of the problem children as they were,” said Officer Kevin Prestegard of the Iowa City Police Department.

Opponents of the 21-only law say police are now going to have a difficult time keeping partying under control. Instead of the drinking hot spot being largely contained in the downtown bar district, they claim it will now spread throughout nearby neighborhoods.

“There’s literally house parties everywhere,” said Geoffrey Paulline, 21, a senior at the University of Iowa. “I think it’s going to be twice as difficult to regulate.”

So far, Lt. Brotherton said police officers have not noticed an uptick in the number of house parties. Regardless, police are stepping up patrol efforts in neighborhoods.

“We’ve got officers in uniforms and unmarked cars so they don’t know if a car drives by if there is going to be a police officer in there or not,” he said.

Lt. Brotherton said this is part of police strategy to keep the drinking crowd guessing about who is watching them so they “have to do the right thing.”

Opponents of the ordinance say they are determined to get-out-the-vote in November and repeal the minimum bar entry age.

For now, Iowa City Police are finding the downtown drinking environment less rowdy than what it used to be.

“It’s actually been quite nice,” Lt. Brotherton said.

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