Iowa City Downtown District plans to invest in downtown alleys

Members of the Iowa City Downtown District spoke about their achievements this past year and introduced their next steps.

People+mingle+before+the+State+of+the+Downtown+annual+meeting+on+Wednesday%2C+June+26%2C+2019.+The+meeting+was+held+in+the+alleyway+behind+Discerning+Eye+in+downtown+Iowa+City.+%28Emily+Wangen%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
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Iowa City Downtown District plans to invest in downtown alleys

People mingle before the State of the Downtown annual meeting on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. The meeting was held in the alleyway behind Discerning Eye in downtown Iowa City. (Emily Wangen/The Daily Iowan)

People mingle before the State of the Downtown annual meeting on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. The meeting was held in the alleyway behind Discerning Eye in downtown Iowa City. (Emily Wangen/The Daily Iowan)

Emily Wangen

People mingle before the State of the Downtown annual meeting on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. The meeting was held in the alleyway behind Discerning Eye in downtown Iowa City. (Emily Wangen/The Daily Iowan)

Emily Wangen

Emily Wangen

People mingle before the State of the Downtown annual meeting on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. The meeting was held in the alleyway behind Discerning Eye in downtown Iowa City. (Emily Wangen/The Daily Iowan)

Tian Liu, News Reporter

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A crowd filled with Iowa City residents and Downtown District employees gathered in the colorfully painted alley space behind Discerning Eye Optical on the evening of June 26 for the annual State of the Downtown meeting.

Iowa City Downtown District members spoke about strides made downtown this past year and plans for the future.

Thirty-two businesses opened downtown in 2018, according to the district’s 2018-19 mission report. From June 1, 2018, to June 1, 2019, 868,140 pedestrians visited downtown.

The district decided to hold its meeting in the alley to showcase some new artwork and showcase how beautiful Iowa City’s alleys could be.

“This [setting for the event] is intended to show us what wonderful space in ally space could be that I think exceed our expectations,” said Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek, president-elect of the district’s board.

Thomas Agran, director of public art of the district, said he spent his last 30 hours in the alley to transform it from a parking lot to a colorful scene.

“I hope that it could testify to the really simple power of how paint can inform space,” he said.

Later this year, the Downtown District will invest in the lighting and activation of the alley between South Dubuque Street and South Linn Street from the Sports Column to the Yacht Club, the report said.

“Just with that a pickup truck, power washer, many gallons of paint and some lighting, some hard work, a lot of creativity of the team … so it didn’t take that much to change the space,” said Nancy Bird, the executive director of the district. The report said the design plan will consider ways to strengthen the sense of place, lighting, and stormwater drainage, and it will work on making more attractive doorways on the alley.

“[This alley] is the demonstration to show people what we can do,” Bird said.

RELATED: Downtown Iowa City splashed with color, increase with public murals 

She has talked with the property owners about the plan, she said, but no one wants to put a doorway on an alley that is “gross.” because there are dumpsters to clean up.

Heim is one of the businesses that backs on the alley. Bird said there is also businesses on the other side of the building. It proves the opportunity for businesses opening on the alley, because Heim and the other businesses have been able to fit in the same space, and Heim has gotten business even with only having a door in the alley.

“The other buildings there don’t have the doorway on the back. They don’t have the opportunity right now for businesses,” she said. “But we hope in the future, someone may want to shrink their space in the front, and we will have new space for businesses in the back.”

Bird said there are opportunities for more businesses in town.

“It also makes sure that the size of the space is appropriate for the market, so that people don’t have to pay too much for space,” she said.

For now, the district doesn’t have the entire design plan yet. District members have invited the design firm to join them, and they are going to look at it to find the best design, Bird said.

Beyond that, the report said the Downtown District signed an agreement with the city to take over the city’s alley power-washing contract.

She said that because people used to reach them to seek help to clean the alley, after taking the contract, the district could take care that directly rather than report to the city and wait for its to take action.

“When we take the contract on, the city is going to give us the same amount of money, but the difference is that we can do a little bit more effectively,” Bird said.

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