Iowa City downtown district’s nighttime mayor starts new initiatives to improve nightlife

New Iowa City nighttime mayor Joe Reilly opens up about his plans for the downtown district, including new portable toilets in alleyways and rape victim advocacy program training.

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Iowa City downtown district’s nighttime mayor starts new initiatives to improve nightlife

Iowa City Night Mayor Joe Riley poses for a portrait on Wednesday, September 4th, 2019.

Iowa City Night Mayor Joe Riley poses for a portrait on Wednesday, September 4th, 2019.

Tate Hilyard

Iowa City Night Mayor Joe Riley poses for a portrait on Wednesday, September 4th, 2019.

Tate Hilyard

Tate Hilyard

Iowa City Night Mayor Joe Riley poses for a portrait on Wednesday, September 4th, 2019.

Rin Swann, News Reporter

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Loud music, late-night food carts, and long lines outside of popular bars are characteristic of downtown Iowa City nightlife. After spending a few months in town, new Night Mayor Joe Reilly said he has begun implementing his ideas into the downtown culture and hopes to turn it into a place for both fun and safe times.

The night mayor is not an elected official, nor is he a part of the city council. Instead, he is part of the Iowa City Downtown District office and acts as an ambassador for local businesses and nightlife culture. He also works with the Iowa City Convention & Visitors Bureau to book group conventions and hotels downtown. 

The role of the Iowa City night mayor originated with Angela Winnike as a part-time position in April 2017. Reilly said the duties and terminology of “nighttime mayor” make Iowa City the first with this position in the nation. 

Since then, other cities around the country have created night mayor positions. According to City Lab, other cities such as Orlando, Pittsburgh, and New York City have implemented their own versions of the role.

RELATED: First night mayor in the city leaves position for Los Angeles

Now, the position is full time, and Reilly has been held the role since May. Reilly said the job primarily involves talking to people downtown, which he does while wearing his “Nighttime Mayor” pin so they can easily identify him and feel free to talk. He then uses his knowledge to improve the city.

“I think the more I’m here, the more people know about [my position],” Reilly said. “It just takes time.”

While Reilly cannot pass policy, he can influence downtown culture. Currently, that includes efforts to instill Rape Victim Advocacy Program training and the recent installation of portable toilets downtown. 

“This is something that my [office] did last year, and we continue to do,” Reilly said.

The influx of people coming downtown during Hawkeye football games inspired the decision, Reilly said. 

“We would have people who were downtown going into businesses, shops, and restaurants just to use the restroom,” Reilly said. “That creates extra pressure on the restaurant. So, if they couldn’t find a suitable place to use the restroom, sometimes it would end up in the alleyways.” 

RELATED: Iowa City nighttime mayor to leave position

He added that, besides the unsanitary aspect, the addition of the portable toilets will help give students and visitors more options for restroom breaks when entering or exiting downtown. 

Blake Carel, an assistant manager at Marco’s, said he thought the portable toilets were a wonderful addition to the downtown area.

“It’s so great,” he said. “Instead of the kids trying to run to the bathroom when a whole bunch of people are trying to get in here, you can just have port-a-potties.”

RELATED: UISG, Iowa City police try to keep nightlife safe 

As for Reilly, he said there is no push to add more portable toilets in Iowa City at the moment, though he said he will if he identifies more problem areas. 

“I think at the end of the day, what everyone wants is a safe, clean, and vibrant downtown,” he said. 

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