Urban development project meets five-year mark


After five years of planning and construction, the first redevelopment project in the Towncrest Urban Renewal Area on the East Side of Iowa City is nearing completion.

Eye Associates of Iowa City held a ribbon cutting this week after its grand opening, and Towncrest Dental is scheduled to open in January 2014.

“We redeveloped the medical clinic, Eye Associates, and Dental,” said Tracy Hightshoe, Iowa City community development planner. “This is the newest construction of medical office buildings since 1963.”

The Eye Associates was the start of a roughly 20-year development plan for the area. Dennis Schlader, a doctor of optometry and part owner of Eye Associates of Iowa City, said the construction of the new medical buildings is just a start to transforming the area.

“[Towncrest] Dental and ourselves were the start of the process for a sort of domino effect for rejuvenation of the area,” Schlader said. “The building we are leaving will hopefully be redefined.”

Residents have responded well to the business’ new development, he said.

“I think we’ve had a lot of positive feedback for staying in the area and for kind of reinvesting in the area,” Schlader said. “[Residents] don’t want to go to the North Side or West Side, they want to stay in local neighborhoods.”

The nearly $1.7 million project is one of several in the area. Iowa City Hospice is also renovating its current building to match new design plans for the area. The hospice received a grant from the city in October to help fund exterior improvements.

“The new project is an investment for the interior and exterior so the hospice could stay in the area and abide by the design plan of that area,” Hightshoe said. “The area has high traffic counts, and it’s in walking distance of City High. It was older and lacked investments.”

The new developments would not have been started unless the city stepped in, City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said.

“We’re trying to turn around the medical complex, which was clearly deteriorating because whoever owned most of the buildings wasn’t putting money in it,” he said. “It’s a good initiative, and we would not have seen private investments unless the city stepped forward with public investments.”

The medical-building construction project is not the only development in that area. A roughly $500,000 streetscape project includes adding bike racks, constructing new sidewalks, and establishing a marker that announces Towncrest, is also being constructed.

The Iowa City Downtown District is also in the process of planning a streetscape project. Although the improvements are tailored to a different crowd in each area, Hightshoe said she hopes the two projects will benefit each area.

“They’re two very different areas and have different flavors,” she said. “We hope the Towncrest Street design will affect the Downtown District, and we hope Towncrest will borrow some access from downtown for a more modern area.”

Although Hightshoe think it’s too soon to determine what outcome the improvements have made, she hopes the construction will inspire more improvements.

“There’s a lot of planning, and we’ll just have to wait and see,” Hightshoe said. “We hope it’s positive, and we are just excited about additional improvements and hope to be a catalyst for more.”

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