The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Downtown eyes ‘rebirth’

File photo
Pedestrians cross Clinton Street and enter the Pedestrian Mall in Downtown Iowa City on Monday, June 27, 2016.

By Mason Clarke

[email protected]

Just outside the Englert Theater, Iowa City officials have plans for more music, more space, and more fun — and the theater is not alone.

Outdoor cafés, more parking, and greater accommodations for bikers and pedestrians are all in the cards for the future of downtown.

The path to that vision involves construction galore, something businesses and other people have been worried about for months. Things might look rough right now, but the city says the goal will be worth it.

“In order to remain vibrant, you have to invest in these capital projects sometimes,” said Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District. “I think the goal is to address the aging infrastructure.”

She listed a plethora of factors in the Downtown District that will change.

They included: widening sidewalks, transitioning from angled parking to parallel parking, changing outdoor café locations and adding more of them, adding bike racks, making all ramps at corners ADA accessible, and replacing disease-prone trees with healthy ones to create a healthy downtown canopy.

Bird said she urges people to stay strong because “the light’s at the end of the tunnel.”

Phase 1 of the downtown project began in April and is expected to transition to Phase 2 in August. Phase 1 is heavily focused on Washington Street construction, so its completion will open up that area.

The construction will make all of those noticeable improvements but Mark Ginsberg, the Downtown District president-elect and owner of M.C. Ginsberg, said the project will do more than that.

“We’re adding more bandwidth or fiber … things that are invisible that will be built into the future, from that to our watermain improvement,” he said. “If you have all these attachments coming out or going into the buildings from the street, then you don’t have to dig up the street again. It anticipates growth.

“The idea is to attract more diverse retail opportunities, increase residential opportunities, and at the same time increase inventory and office space.”

Ginsberg also said individual business in the Downtown District should have better opportunities to improve their buildings with the coming changes.

He said that a $1,200 investment by building owners can get them full access to a grant that brings professionals in to assess what improvements the building needs. After that, cooperation with the city would cover most of the costs of fixing up the building.

While there is a lot in store for the future, businesses are also being affected.

Iowa City senior civil engineer Scott Sovers, who has doubled as the liaison between the city and the downtown businesses, said he believes the cooperation has been great.

“I think [the businesses] want to see it done as quickly as possible,” he said. “They’ve been very patient and been willing to work with us during the construction project.”

Bird said she thinks the downtown businesses “recognize that at the end of it … this is really a healthy thing for downtown Iowa City.”

The downtown vision includes cleanliness and safety as well. The city has cleaned alleyways and worked with arts and music groups to coordinate worthwhile downtown events, which the city expects to only increase in quality once construction is finished and there is more space.

The safety side of things has already come into play. In 2013, the city assigned police Officer David Schwindt as the downtown liaison officer, tasked with patrolling downtown.

Since Schwindt has been in this position, things have improved, something he attributes to a combination of cracking down on synthetic drug sales, the relocation of the free-lunch program, and placing of him to keep an eye on the area in the afternoons and nights.

In a report that Schwindt made, he found that in his time as the downtown liaison officer, the district has seen a drop of 49 percent or more in reported fights, noise disturbances, narcotics, and shoplifting.

Bird said the plans for continued construction hope to attract people of all ages to downtown.

“I think we’re doing what we can to ensure that Iowa City stays vibrant and that we speak with a unified voice,” she said.

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