IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — University of Iowa freshman Grant Spading and his co-workers have been all over campus in recent days making an easy sell: asking students to vote to let underage patrons back in Iowa City bars at peak drinking hours.
Their employer, the Union Bar, is a driving force behind a ballot measure Tuesday seeking to repeal a 3-year-old city ordinance that requires 19- and 20-year-olds to leave bars by 10 p.m. Bar owner George Wittgraf said the election could be the last chance for the city to restore what he called a fairer and more fun bar scene for young people.
But city and university leaders say the ballot measure is really an attempt by a handful of bars to again profit from underage drinking. They are waging a campaign to save the ordinance approved by the City Council, saying it has quickly proven to be an effective curb on high-risk drinking.
Since the ordinance was enacted, some of the largest bars have closed. Restaurants, clothing stores and businesses have opened in their place. Binge drinking rates among university students have started to decline. And city police statistics show dramatic drops in calls reporting downtown disturbances, criminal mischief and fights in 2012 compared with 2009.
"Downtown and near campus areas have benefited from remarkable improvements in safety, reductions in crime. The downtown area is now more vibrant and better balanced," said Mayor Matt Hayek, who is leading a "vote no" campaign. "An out-of-control situation has been moderated."
Hayek said the ordinance will be repealed if residents of the 60,000-population city do not vote in decent numbers Tuesday. He watched nervously in recent weeks as supporters of the repeal campaign accumulated votes at campus early voting locations.
Wittgraf and the general manager of the bar next door, Martini's, gathered more than 2,500 signatures earlier this year to trigger the vote. Disclosure reports show money for the repeal campaign has come from their bars and a third, Player's.