Downtown District eyes shining future


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ben S

The Jefferson Building on Washington St. is seen during Jazz Fest on Sunday, July 2. This is within the Iowa City Downtown District, which held an event Thursday morning, discussing the continual progress being made in the downtown area. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Downtown Iowa City’s annual meeting looked back on the successes of its past and its potential for the future.

By Jim Geerdes

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As most Iowa City residents were sleeping on the morning of June 29, downtown business owners and leaders held an annual meeting at 7 a.m. to discuss the district’s position.

June 29 marked the annual State of Downtown meeting, which looks back at the area’s recent endeavors and outlines its plans for the future. Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District, hosted the meeting to spread the district’s message.

The main goal of the Downtown District is to attract local residents who have not partaken in its recent events. To achieve this, the Downtown District plans to increase the traffic to the downtown. An example of this was the June 24 downtown Block Party.

Following the event, the meeting was held with high spirits and optimism about the upcoming year.

“[June 24] was a huge risk,” Bird said at the meeting. “It was a nighttime initiative to really change how people thought about Iowa City at night and what goes on.”

The Downtown District serves as the front office for the major projects, businesses, and events held on the Pedestrian Mall.

The downtown thrives on the success of the Ped Mall, which draws in many visitors, Bird said, and creates much more traffic to the local businesses.  Around 150 businesses are members of the district and take part in its monthly meetings.

The annual meeting outlined the district’s strategic plan for the upcoming year. It plans to make creative signs to increase traffic to downtown, use alley space more efficiently, and manage historic buildings, among other things. In the long run, the board hopes to expand the downtown experience south of Burlington Street.

“We do have a number of opportunities downtown, as long as the market remains strong,” Bird said at the meeting. “If you go south of Burlington, there are a number of building projects … We have this demand for more people and more offices downtown, and we can send it that way.”

The biggest threat to the downtown for upcoming years is a lack of affordable housing for students, Bird said, and the residences in the area are increasing in value. Bird said the district hopes to work alongside the city to bring affordable housing to the area to increase the accessibility to the downtown and campus.

As construction continues on Washington Street, Bird emphasized that its businesses will continue to stay open. The atmosphere of downtown always seems to be cluttered with construction, yet the progress helps to sustain the district’s goal to make downtown a destination, Bird said.

“Downtown will become even more of a destination because of the hotels that are coming [to town],” said Ben Kinseth, the director of operations at the Kinseth Hospitality Companies and a panelist at the meeting.

As the area grows denser and denser, it will need to continue its enhancements. The downtown’s traffic will continue to grow and so will its events.

“Iowa City’s [downtown] is unique because we have people who are coming here at all times of the day,” said Catherine Champion, a local boutique owner and a panelist. “Quite honestly, I think we have the most healthy, living downtown in Iowa for sure, arguably the Midwest.”

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