South side Iowa City businesses push for revitalization effort

Community advocates are moving forward in establishing a self-supported municipal improvement district on the south side of Iowa City.


Jeff Sigmund

Some of the available units at Pepperwood Plaza, on March,1 2021. The plaza is located at Hwy. 6 East. Iowa City.

Mary Hartel, News Reporter

Community organizers and business owners are pushing grassroots efforts forward to create a Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District in Iowa City’s South Side district, which representatives say will “revitalize the community and stimulate business.”

A Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District is a tool that communities use to collectively create economic growth and enhance a specific geographic location’s livability and infrastructure by implementing a SSMID levy on commercial properties within the boundaries.

President of the South District Neighborhood Association and improvement district Committee Chair Angie Jordan said during a presentation last week that the purpose of the improvement district is to spur economic growth, to enhance infrastructure, and create a space to come together to collectively hold events and increase marketing.

“I love that we don’t have to recreate the wheel with the SSMID,” Jordan said. “One already exists — the downtown district.”

The improvement district would encompass the area south of Highway 6, East to West between Broadway Street and Keokuk Street, and ending south of Cross Park Avenue before Sandusky Avenue.

The Pepperwood Plaza is the ideal area for the district, Jordan said, as it has a lot of underutilized commercial and parking areas and is close to many residents.

“It is that gateway, it’s that ideal commercial connection between the neighborhood and more of the commercial towards the west,” Jordan said.

The district overlaps a lot of the City of Iowa City’s plan for development and supports further growth, Jordan said.

Iowa City Downtown District Director Nancy Bird said that improvement districts do not apply to residential areas, which is why the committee is looking to create the district in a commercial area.

The funds for the improvement district are generated yearly by a taxable assessed value of qualified properties, Bird said.

“So, it’s essentially like a SSMID tax that will be applied against your property valuation,” Bird said.

For a petition to move forward, Bird said, it will require property owner and Iowa City City Council approval.

The Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District organization operates as a 501(c)6, with a board of members established and with agreement with the city, Bird said.

The proposed budget for getting the project established to meet the first year’s plan is roughly $122,000, Bird said. Expenses include funding an executive director, administration, organizational plan, and more, she said.

Businesses within the geographic boundaries of the district can expect to pay their property valuation divided by 1,000 and multiplied by a $5 levy rate Bird said, initially for five years.

Right now, she said the process is in the outreach and engagement phase with all property owners and the committee is gathering petition signatures.

The tax would be implemented beginning July 1, 2022, Bird said.

Perks of having this self-supported district would include free WiFi, branding, and wayfinding; an open market structure to support existing cultural markets; cultural pedestrian connections; and collaboration among communities, Jordan said.

After the presentation, several community members expressed concern with how the improvement district would affect affordable housing and commercial real estate.

Advocates for the district said they cannot preserve affordability by investing in other neighborhoods.

Pepperwood Plaza business owner of JD Beauty Supply Tasha Lard said that she supports creating the improvement district.

Lard said the improvement district would be beneficial not just for her as a business owner, but it will operate as a tool in uplifting the whole South District of Iowa City.

It would also help with wayfinding, Lard said, putting Pepperwood Plaza on the map.

Lard said she believes that even though businesses may have to pay more for the tax, it will be worth it.

“It’s not something that’s given to business owners, it is kind of like an investment,” Lard said. “Because it’s going to help us grow.”