Saturday, July 2, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Sign of change at The Boat House. Iowa booze sales soar. LHF snubs longtime mud run race directors.


The Johnston City Council started hearing complaints in July regarding a sign posted at The Boat House, a bar located across from Hyperion Field Club at 7695 N.W. Beaver Drive in northern Johnston: “Trump 2024 National Headquarters,” the banner read, along with a message against defunding police and a reference to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, reading “Joe and the ho gotta go.”

Despite the harsh and arguably profane words, some Council members felt the sign may be considered protected speech and asked the city’s legal staff to look into what could be done. 

This wasn’t the first go-around with controversial signage at The Boat House. An earlier sign — more tame, but still controversial — was reported in January of 2021: “We stand with law enforcement and President Trump. If you don’t like it, take your business elsewhere.” 

Some apparently didn’t like it, as a sign was posted in late December at The Boat House stating “under new management.”

TBJ LLC bought the parcel for $250,000 on Nov. 23, 2021, according to Polk County Assessor records. Tom Baldwin Jr. is listed as a member of TBJ. In addition to The Boat House property, TBJ LLC is listed as having interests in Polk County real estate that host businesses linked to Tom and Annie Baldwin, the couple best known for owning and operating Wellman’s Pub and Rooftop and other popular establishments around the metro. Representatives of TBJ and/or the new management at The Boat House had not returned CITYVIEW’s queries regarding what’s in store for the bar, or if central Iowans can expect any change in signage. … 


Liquor sales in Iowa hit record highs for the second straight fiscal year in 2021, according to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division Annual Report. Iowa reported more than $415 million in sales from July 2020 through June 2021. This is a 13% increase. Other notes of interest from the report: 

• Almost 97 million gallons of beer were sold in the Hawkeye state, a 93% increase from 2020. Likewise, wine sales were nearly 6.5 million gallons in Iowa, a 93% increase. 

• Liquor sales were up, too, as 6.5 million gallons of distilled spirits sold. The bulk of that number, 4.1 million gallons, was whiskey or vodka. 

• Speaking of whiskey, Black Velvet Canadian Whiskey sold more gallons of product than any other brand, topping out at 380,492 gallons. Tito’s Handmade Vodka came in a close second with 357,075, followed by Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum with 264,920, Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey with 259,628, and Hawkeye Vodka with 204,644.

• The top 50 native-Iowa liquor brands, as ranked by gallons sold: (1) Blue Ox Vodka 70,726, (2) Cedar Ridge Bourbon 16,049, (3) Gotcha Vodka 9,955, (4) Swell Vodka 7,822, and (5) Prairie Fire 5,354.

• Polk County drinkers downed 1.3 million gallons of alcohol. That’s the most of any county in Iowa and 77,194 gallons more than the previous year. 

• Iowans bought more alcohol during December than in any other month of the year.

“Fiscal Year 2021 can be accurately described as the year of ‘managing a sales surge in a time of crisis,’ ” stated Herbert H. Sutton Jr., Chief Operations Officer, in the report. …

The pre-Thanksgiving off-road race known as Road-O-Cross at Living History Farms (LHF) — a four-decade tradition operated by Steve and Nancy Bobenhouse — is kaput. A similar-sounding off-road mud run is on Living History’s events docket and will be operated by its own team. 

Road-O-Cross donated more than $1.3 million to the historical museum through the years, according to its former race directors, while attaining the label of being the “largest off-road race in North America.” But it was a “no go” for the second straight year in 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Until their recent retirement, the Bobenhouses were the longtime owners of Fitness Sports and were embedded in the running community. That involvement, coupled with “a love of Living History Farms,” led Steve to take the helm as race director in the early 1980s. 

In the race’s early years, according to Steve, LHF allowed the event to use the grounds for free. 

Then, with the running boom of the early 1990s, Road-O-Cross began to grow. By the early 2000s, it was generating significant cash and incorporated as a nonprofit entity — the Bobenhouse-Lavender Foundation. The event’s revenues soared, including a $50,000 Adidas sponsorship. 

“All of a sudden, we were giving them (Living History Farms) $100,000 a year,” says Steve. 

At the high-water mark, the race had more than 8,000 participants and donated more than $180,000 to LHF, says Steve. 

Organizing the event was a lot of work, but the Bobenhouses say they love the Farms.

“I served on the board for three terms starting in 2011,” says Nancy. Steve’s passion stems from the similarity between LHF’s 1900s farm and a farm where he spent a large chunk of time as a child. Plus, according to the Bobenhouses, they made this a family-and-friends affair, as the race was manned by volunteers. That made it fun for everyone, Steve says, and it also saved money. 

Steve says the bulk of the proceeds went to LHF, although a portion — less than 20% — was doled out to various youth athletic programs, other fitness events, and to local nonprofits. The foundation also retained funds for seed-money for the next year’s race. 

Giving $1.3 million dollars to a good cause and helping an organization you love made it fun, but several years ago, according to Steve, the fun began to ebb.

“I walked into the development director after the race and handed him a check for $100,000. The previous year’s check had been $150,000,” Steve says. “He looked at me and said, ‘Oh, I had planned on more than that. We may have to let someone go.’ ”

Successive years of bad weather and increased competition from similar events, combined with Adidas’ decision to cut back on race sponsorships across the nation, hurt the Road-O-Cross’ bottom line. 

The amount of the check to LHF went down again the next year, and, according to Steve, that’s when LHF asked the foundation to rent the space for $25,000 annually instead of making a donation. The Bobenhouses agreed. 

After 2020’s cancellation, Steve and Nancy were planning a race for 2021 until September’s COVID surge threw a wrench in the works. The couple maintains that they hoped to get the event back on its feet for 2022. But LHF wanted to go a different direction, and a cease-and-desist letter arrived on Dec. 2. It asked them to refrain from using the Living History Farms name. 

“Our leadership decided it was time to bring it in house,” explains a spokesperson for Living History Farms, regarding the reason for the change in the mud run’s management. 

Steve and Nancy say there are no sour grapes on their part. 

“If they want to put on an event of their own, they have that right,” Steve says. “I don’t want anything bad for the Farms. I hope their race goes well.” 

Details for the new race are on the Living History Farms’ online events page. ♦

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