Partnership to discuss decrease in student drinking, alcohol-free venues

[Source: “Partnership to discuss decrease in student drinking, alcohol-free venues,” Daily Iowan, 10 July 2013, by Quentin Misiag]

Alcohol Meeting

The Partnership for Alcohol Safety will meet today (Wednesday 10 July 2013) in the University Capitol Center to discuss the following agenda items:

While a consensus has yet to be reached regarding a controversial city ordinance, one local alcohol advocacy and educational group is maintaining its mission.

For more than four years, the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, a joint project between University of Iowa and Iowa City officials, has mulled ideas to bring new alcohol-free and alternative options to Iowa City’s downtown and North Side Marketplace.

“We’re working so that excessive drinking doesn’t appear to be the normal thing to do,” said Kelly Bender, the UI community harm reduction initiatives coordinator, said.

“In the past, we haven’t taken a position because we are so diverse, she said about the board’s makeup and individual opinions on the 21-ordinance. “We don’t want that issue to be a wedge [in moving forward].”

Bender and panel members have long advocated that with the 21-ordinance in place, alongside a number of city exemptions, not only is the Downtown District a safer and more vibrant area, the decline percentage of students drinking and the amount of alcohol consumed has yielded a healthier young person demographic.

In response to recent outcry from opponents to the ordinances, including a number of downtown bar operators and some UI students, Bender said, the partnership has the numbers to back up its belief.

According to National College Health Assessment’s spring 2013 data, 930 UI students completed the survey, a response rate of 99 percent.

The survey, taken at more than 140 colleges across the country, sampled more than 90,000 students.

From 2009 to spring 2013, the number of UI students surveyed who said they drank in the last 30 days dropped 12 percent from the four-year high of 85.2 percent.

The percentage of UI students drinking more than 10 days per month, 27.4 percent, has declined 25 percent since 2009. And that decline also includes a lower average number of drinks per occasion. The average number of drinks consumed at one time for a UI student now stands at fewer than 6, a fall from 7.43 in 2009.

Bender notes that with a few downtown establishments still serving underage patrons, new-venue space limitations, and the lack of a concrete framework still present challenges.

Among the solutions are a new late-night comedy club space, a downtown UI scavenger hunt, town-hall meetings, a mystery shopper program, and instituting an alcohol-alternative task force in the Big Ten.

Wedge late-night comedy club

Beginning this fall, a new small-venue comedy club will début in the Wedge, 136 S. Dubuque St.

Headed by the UI’s Campus Activities Board, the club will host all of the student organization’s three shows from 10 p.m. until midnight.

Bender said the overarching goal for the venue is to create a student-focused space downtown outside of the standard bar scene.

The pairing will help address a prominent challenge in offering up alcohol-alternative spaces in downtown, Bender said.

Discussions are currently underway with the operators of the Summit, 10 S Clinton St., and Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave., to possibly operate alcohol-free entertainment establishments on their second floors.

Where’s Herky?

The alcohol panel liked the recent success during the second Where’s Waldo small-business promotion in downtown Iowa City and on other college campuses areas last week so much that they have opted to establish a UI-focused branch, dubbed Where’s Herky.

In collaboration with OnIowa, set for Aug. 21-25, the downtown and North Side Marketplace scavenger hunt will encourage downtown patrons to compete in a see local, shop local program.

One very significant stipulation, however lies in the target audience, Bender said.

Rather than seeking out local residents, the event will target incoming UI freshmen and their families, who might find themselves in unfamiliar territory downtown.

“The goal is to get people off the beaten path beyond the Ped Mall,” Bender said, noting that many participating businesses are ran by UI alums, and window signs will indicate that.

“This is a place that a lot of people make their lives and build successful businesses after graduating from the UI. We want to really showcase that.”

Once participants have visited a required number of businesses, they will be asked to upload their photos to a video sharing app, likely Instagram, to win an array of prizes, while experiencing life beyond the bar and restaurant culture, Bender said.

Big Ten Taskforce

Looking at a previous comprehensive plan by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Partnership for Alcohol Safety is forming both statewide and Big Ten drinking taskforces.

Panel members will meet with representatives from the schools, which will include the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University in concluding what alcohol-free venues and intitiaves have proven to part of a successful equation.

Alcohol Mystery Shopper

Group representatives are mulling the future implementation of a quasi mystery-shopper program.

The initiative would send adults who appear to be less than 21 years old into bars with fake IDs to purchase alcoholic beverages.

The goal, Bender said, is to create a system of compliance checks at local bars and restaurants in seeing which ones fail and pass proper identification and underage-drinking screenings.

For UISG President Katherine Valde emphasized that future growth and success of a number of the initiatives, notably the alternative-venue options, will not come to fruition without student support.

“Especially if you’re trying to make solutions [to underage binge drinking], you have to have that student perspective,” she said.

Valde said that although she has heard that concepts like those are in demand among students, they must be executed properly from the get-go to ensure their long-term viability.

In George Etre’s perspective, preliminary success of the alternative initiatives can be told by three UI student groups to date: Campus Activities Board, UI Student Government, and UI Fraternity and Sorority Life.

The owner of Takanami and Formosa restaurants said a number of sisterhood and fraternity-hosted nonalcoholic socials and comedy acts called Takanami’s former banquet room home during the 2012-13 academic year.

In the past year alone, he said, roughly 25 nonalcoholic fraternity and sorority events were held at the now-closed banquet space. But the establishment would like to continue the events into the new academic year.

He said the banking on the profitability of nonalcohol related venues downtown by investors has been the driving force beyond the relatively few current options.

Nonetheless, he remains confident.

“We’re getting there. This takes months and years to build it up so that it’s a success,” he said. “We’ve just got to be patient with it.”


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