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Your Town Now: The Month that was April 2011

Controversy on a Stick

Cheered on by the Melrose Neighborhood Association, a committee led by Housing and Inspection Services Director Doug Boothroy recommended that vendors not be allowed to operate along Melrose Avenue on football gamedays. The committee reasoned that, since the area is zoned residential, anything short of a ban would constitute a willful disregard for regulations designed, after all, to make these things straightforward.

After a lengthy discussion, the Council of Elders declined to impose an outright ban, but will continue to discuss the idea of issuing temporary permits. According to Susan Mims, “The vast majority” of interested citizens “are saying, are you people crazy? And I have to agree with them.” “Possibly because my husband is The University of Iowa’s associate athletic director,” she did not add.

Craziness aside, appeals to “tradition” that ignore the downside of gameday amount to idle whines absent an appreciation of the neighborhood’s point of view. A handful of days a year, residents around Melrose get to see economic stimulus in the raw: crowds of people (and the fluids entering and escaping them), lots of noise and tons of garbage. It’s a mixed bag, and the downside ranges from public urination to serious safety hazards; last year workers with Game Day Iowa punctured a natural gas line when setting up a tent on Melrose.

With that in mind, a bit more oversight isn’t entirely outrageous. Boothroy’s committee put the Iowa City Council on the spot and council members responded about as generously as they could. Could’ve been worse—Boothroy thinks that “we need to talk about” the “Iowa Fuckin’ City” T-shirts sold by one salty vendor.

At the end of the day, though, it’s really up to us schlubs to support a gameday environment that doesn’t require overwrought regulation. Here are a few tips:

• The next time you see someone litter during pregame, finish your beer, throw it to the ground and punch the offender in the nose. Then pick up your cup.

• Help curb public urination the entrepreneurial way: open an adult-diaper concession. [Add your own black and gold joke here.]

• Legalize it. Hey, this month’s column was due on 4/20.

Coming Soon: Half as Much to Explain to Your Parents

In a continuing effort to seem less old and crazy, the City Council decided to vote this summer on lowering fines imposed for under-21 violations. Currently, the penalty for being caught at a bar after hours is $500, plus another $235 in fees of some kind. Being caught in possession of alcohol could tack on another $365. By comparison, I have never paid $1,100 for a car.

The proposal scheduled for consideration on July 1 would drop the first-time penalty
for underage presence at a bar to $535. By comparison, I have never … you know, let’s talk about something else.

Prof. Lewin Calls Attention to the Need for Brevity in Email Communication

Fresh off the success of their 2007 game of capture the flag featuring illegal immigrants vs. border patrol agents, the UI College Republicans went fishing again this April and came up with a whopper. This time, the UICR cast a broad net, combining an animal-rights barbecue with a “coming-out party” for conservatives.

I’m not unsympathetic to the challenges the UICR faced in choosing a ploy: Just a week previous, an elementary school teacher in Virginia held a mock slave auction, which would’ve been golden. And I join Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Bob Allen, Ken Mehlman, Ted Haggerty, Mark Kirk, Lindsey Graham and countless others in applauding the idea of conservatives coming out.

I’m a bit disappointed, though, that such a shitstorm (pardon my French) erupted over Professor Ellen Lewin’s simple response: “Fuck You, Republicans” (pardon hers).

Disappointed that Lewin didn’t take a beat to consider that she was fulfilling exactly the role written for her by a handful of students whose sense of humor is indebted equally to Andrew Dice Clay and Guy Debord (the intellectual for stupid people who want to look smart).

Disappointed that the UICR’s mock-shocks of righteous teenage indignation were so predictable.

And disappointed that the AP wire story, as written by new Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley, missed much of the nuance I’ve hamhandedly crammed into this segment. Which, of course, helped him get his stuff picked up by Fox. Welcome, Ryan; may you use your time back in town wisely and may you hone your craft studiously.

Sack Up

For a state that gave the world Michele Bachmann (born in Waterloo) and Bob Vander Plops, Iowa’s redistricting effort was boringly sane and reasonable. For a brief shining moment, it looked like we in the Fightin’ Second would be treated to a Battle of the Sacks: Incumbent Dave Loebsack suddenly found himself in the First District, which includes congressional hopeful and former First Lady Christine Vilsack’s hometown of Mount Pleasant.

But Vilsack moved to Ames, where she’ll take on Steve King (who, along with Bachmann, is another, sadder, kind of sack). Loebsack will drag his carpet bag down from Mount Vernon and vie to stay in the Second.

Vito’s is Dead; Long Live __________

Regular reader(s) of this column know that I’m dubious about tax increment financing schemes, or TIFs, in which loans to developers are paid back by the increased tax revenues generated by new projects. But when the city stands to breathe life into a former Mike Porter joint, throwing TIF money to local developer/Vetro-inflictor Marc Moen seems a bit more palatable.

Moen is requesting $250,000 in TIF money to rehab the artist formerly known as Vito’s. The ground floor is large enough to house an upscale retail outlet, though it needs repairs (including, somehow unsurprisingly, sewer work). The floors above have, again somehow unsurprisingly, gone unused for decades and Moen plans to turn them into suitable office spaces.

As it currently stands, the deal projects repayment in eight years or so once tenants are found. Speaking of which, there aren’t any just yet—and the deal also stipulates that Moen won’t put a bar or restaurant in the space. That’s where Moen’s knack for getting things done meets up with the dreams of Tom Markus and other champions of corporate retail downtown: The building seems destined to house an H&M or Urban Outfitters (both of which, my girlfriend assures me, sell clothes).

There’s some risk here: Moen’s stake in purchasing the building is unknown and that’s a ton of floor space for a lone, big-box retailer, unserved by an immediately adjacent parking lot (modern life is disgusting, yes, but these are realities). So we’re looking at sinking a quarter-million dollars to de-scuzz Vito’s in the hope that a major player will move in. The best-case scenario has the new space bringing significantly more people downtown, some of whom will become new customers at competing stores, while a decade of the new store’s increased tax production goes to pay off an existing debt. The worst-case scenarios are too numerous and too lousy to dwell on, but they all boil down to throwing a ton of money at a developer whose optimism doesn’t carry enough water.

This is happening, and it’s big. Moen’s worked well with the city in the past—the Vetro might look awkwardly out of place to some of us, but Moen brought a thriving grocery store downtown, even if it was on the second try, and it’s a short list of folks who could’ve done that. For all our sakes, he needs to hit this one out of the park.

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