Iowa City Downtown District discusses plans to support diversity and inclusion at annual State of the Downtown meeting

The Iowa City Downtown District board members discussed ways they plan to continue supporting businesses during the coronavirus, improvements in the area, and their plans to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts this year.


People walk around downtown on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.

Lillian Poulsen, Staff Reporter

Iowa City Downtown District held the annual State of the Downtown address, where leaders discussed the successes of the previous year and what improvements they are currently making to the downtown district amid the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter protests.

New staff members met with outgoing President Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek over Zoom, to talk about improvements in art, the success of events, and ways to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in businesses downtown.

Pilcher Hayek started the meeting discussing expectations for the year. She said the Downtown District will encourage people to engage safely with Iowa City businesses until they can reopen. She also acknowledged the Black Lives Matter protests and what this movement means for the downtown area.

“People of color, as business owners and patrons, are underrepresented in our downtown,” Pilcher Hayek said. “The Downtown District embraces this revolution as it remains committed to finding ways to make our downtown more racially and culturally diverse.”

Executive Director Nancy Bird discussed the Black Lives Matter protests happening downtown, including the event on the Pedestrian Mall on June 6.

“That information flow and social media was so very impactful,” Bird said. “We did our very best to communicate with people – just to share when the protests were happening – to encourage people to get involved, to encourage people to listen.”

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Bird spoke about efforts to clean the graffiti downtown from protests that occurred in early June.

“When spray paint is used I think there is an initial reaction that is age-old to clean it up. When it kept happening over and over, we tried to do our best to really listen to what was happening and to stop and take a breath,” Bird said. “This is a significant moment in our time, and we have a lot of work to do in our future.”

Bird then talked about a new program which focuses on shopping local and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She also discussed economic programs to support businesses during COVID-19 and the permanent changes Iowa City will make after the pandemic ends.

Director of Special Events Christopher Hunter then talked about changes to events since the pandemic started.

“Around March, when the COVID pandemic hit, we had to rework some of our events,” Hunter said. “During this time, I have been reworking events to see what we can do to ensure the safety of all of our attendees and ensure the safety of all of our businesses.”

Nighttime Mayor Joe Reilly shared the successes of Iowa Friday Night Live, a walking series where prospective students and families learn about opportunities downtown. This year, he is holding this virtually to continue to engage students interested in the University of Iowa.

In response to a question about what the Iowa City Downtown District plans to do to support The Mill, Bird said they plan to make sure the new owners understand the importance it has in the community.

“There’s a lot of interest in the Mill and really good community interest,” Bird said. “I have really high hopes that we will have a local owner of this establishment that understands how important this is.”