Iowa City City Council looks to allow alcohol use in park shelters

As summer rolls around, the council will likely pass a new ordinance to allow alcohol consumption in Iowa City park shelters.


Jeff Sigmund

Photo Illustration by Jeff Sigmund on Thursday April 29, 2021.

Caitlin Crome, News Reporter

Iowa City residents will be able to enjoy alcohol in park shelters this summer.

The Iowa City City Council passed an ordinance allowing alcohol in city park shelters through two readings, and members say the ordinance will most likely pass a third and final time at the council’s meeting on Tuesday.

Parks and Recreation Director Juli Seydell Johnson said the idea for this new ordinance came to the Parks and Recreation Commission from residents asking for a change to their alcohol policies.

“If it passes, that means alcohol consumption, meaning only beer, wine, seltzers, that kind of alcohol, no hard alcohol — no sales of alcohol unless you have a further sales permit and insurance and everything else that goes with that,” she said.

Seydell Johnson said people may only consume alcohol within a park shelter if they have reserved it, and alcohol consumption is only allowed in the actual concrete boundary of the shelter.

“[The price] ranges quite a bit,” she said. “We have shelters that hold two picnic tables, and we have shelters that hold up to a hundred people.”

All prices are listed on the Iowa City Parks and Recreation website, Seydell Johnson said.

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The rules are policed on a complaint basis by those in the parks or park staff members, Seydell Johnson said.

“If a park staff member happened to be in a park and noticed a large group somewhere other than a park shelter drinking alcohol, they would be asked to either move to the shelter and show that they have a rental or asked to leave the park at that point,” she said.

Seydell Johnson said she thinks that there has been alcohol consumption in the parks for some time.

“A lot of people do not realize we even have an ordinance saying you cannot [consume alcohol],” she said. “We very rarely have any type of complaint due to alcohol in the parks.”

Because of this, Seydell Johnson said she feels there will not be many challenges. She said this will help clean up the parks ordinance to match what is actually happening. But, if it does become an issue, she said the Parks and Recreation Department will reconsider the policy.

“I really think that people will be cognizant that this is a new thing and will play by the rules and obey park rules when they are using the parks,” Seydell Johnson said.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague said the city council supports the ordinance.

“It is a great opportunity for individuals to host events in the park with alcohol,” he said.

City Councilor Laura Bergus said she supports the new ordinance, which has been discussed for a number of years. She also said that she anticipates that it will run smoothly and free of challenges.

“I think it is good to provide flexibility for the use of those outdoor spaces and to manage alcohol in the parks a little bit,” Bergus said. “I think we know that there is probably some alcohol use that already happens in the parks, but this gives a way for people to do it that is manageable.”

Both Bergus and Seydell Johnson said they have not heard much positive or negative feedback from the community about this ordinance.

Because of the pandemic, Seydell Johson said park use in general has skyrocketed in the last two to three weeks.

“This decision also came from an equity standpoint of — this is a lower cost way for people to meet outside for their events and have the event they would like to have in our parks,” she said.