Iowa City Downtown District establishes pledge to enforce health and safety guidelines

The pledge encourages patrons, bars, and restaurants to enforce appropriate health and safety guidelines, including adhering to the city-wide mask mandate.


Jeff Sigmund

Handmade face masks made by Sandy Rodak and donated to Respiratory Therapists at the UIHC as seen on April 20,2020.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

The Iowa City Downtown District this month established a pledge that encourages patrons, restaurants, and bars to adhere to the city-wide mask mandate as well as appropriate social distancing guidelines.

The pledge was announced on Sept. 23 and was put into effect immediately.

Iowa City Nighttime Mayor Joe Reilly said this pledge will last as long as it’s deemed necessary.

Reilly said this pledge serves to show the public what downtown businesses are doing to ensure the safety of customers, as well as remind customers what they need to be doing to ensure the health and safety of employees.

“Sometimes on the surface, from afar, it looks like [businesses] are not doing anything whatsoever, so that’s why we wanted to get ahead of it,” the nighttime mayor said. “This is also a way for these businesses to really reclaim their reputation and not only hold themselves accountable to their patrons, but also, the patrons now holding themselves accountable and doing their part as well.”

Reilly said this pledge was inspired by the Iowa Restaurant Association’s original hospitality pledge, released earlier this spring when the government ordered the closure of restaurants and bars.

He said the ICDD took this pledge, added several items to it, and presented it to the President and CEO of Iowa Restaurant Association Jessica Dunker, who approved of it.

Reilly also said the district is providing signage to businesses, something he thinks helps personalize the pledge and allows patrons to be more comfortable with it. However, the program is completely voluntary.

He went on to say he believes the downtown area will find success in the initiative if the community is able to work together to recognize the importance of providing each patron and employee with a safe and enjoyable experience.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Reilly said. “It’s hard to do everything all at once, but if we can all be together in this, and remind each other what our responsibilities and duties are, I think we’ll be a lot more successful than if we try to go it alone.”

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Dunker said she believes Iowa City businesses are exceeding expectations with this pledge, and that following appropriate health and safety guidelines should allow downtown businesses to remain open to serve the community.

“This continuation of keeping Johnson County closed, at this point, it defies logic,” Dunker said. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”

CEO of the Corridor Entertainment Group Jason Zeman said he was directly involved in crafting and promoting this pledge, as he is on the Downtown District’s Board of Directors.

Zeman said the four businesses his group manages — Studio 13, Yacht Club, Players, and Eden — are participating in this newly established pledge and are hoping to encourage safe behaviors within the public.

He said this pledge helps voice to the public what health and safety measures businesses are taking, and what kind of expectations they have for those who attend their establishments.

“The downtown pledge just takes things a little bit farther than what the state does,” Zeman said. “I think what the big part of it was, to just let people know what we’re doing and to remind the public of what they need to be doing as well, because there’s only so much we can be doing if people don’t follow the rules.”

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Dunker said she believes Johnson County are ready to advance into “normal life” again — something for which she thinks citizens are motivated to work together.

“The sense of community and the interest in the Iowa City community to have people be well and have life back to normal as quickly as possible, it’s a very deep desire,” she said. “It’s one that I think people in that community are willing to work for.”