Iowa City Tourism Grant to provide funding to new and existing initiatives in Iowa City to spur more visitors

Think Iowa City is heading the new grant program that hopes to bring tourism and new initiatives to the city.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

A sign reading “Iowa City” is displayed during the “Downtown Block Party” in Iowa City on Saturday, June 25, 2022.

Virginia Russell, News Reporter

A new grant aims to bring more visitors to Iowa City and support to businesses struggling following COVID-19.

The Iowa City Tourism Grant Program will increase the number of tourists in Iowa City by funding tourism-related marketing initiatives, events and meetings that will in turn benefit the local economy, according to the Think Iowa City website. 

The funding will also reimburse up to 50 percent of eligible expenses. Applicants can receive a maximum of $30,000 for new initiatives and $5,000 for already existing initiatives. 

Think Iowa City vice president of public affairs Nick Pfeiffer said the program was created in hopes to boost tourism activity around the city. The grant program was created in collaboration with Think Iowa City and the City of Iowa City. 

The program is funded by American Rescue Plan Act funds. After the City of Iowa City was allocated $150,000 in ARPA funding, it provided Think Iowa City with that funding for them to oversee a new grant program, which became the Iowa City Tourism Grant Program. 

“The city has asked us [Think Iowa City] to be the administrator of the grant program and to essentially qualify organizations for the dollars that are available,” Pfeiffer said. 

The grant program is an opportunity for revitalization after the loss of tourism and visitor spending from the pandemic, Pfeiffer said. After facing an overall economic downturn through 2020 and 2021, the state was looking for new initiatives to bring people back, which Iowa City saw as an opening for promoting new ways of generating visitors. 

“You know, first and foremost, we’re looking for new ideas, new types of events that we don’t have in the area, let alone in the city of Iowa City itself,” said Pfeiffer.

Think Iowa City President Joshua Schamberger said in an online statement that the grant will help those impacted by COVID-19.

“The travel and tourism industry was obviously one of the most greatly affected sectors by the pandemic,” Schamberger said. “This is a great use of ARPA funds to spur new economic activity by visitors to Iowa City.” 

Rachel Kilburg, Iowa City assistant city manager, said the Iowa City City Council voted to distribute funding to the area of tourism and hospitality in September 2021.The program will also bring support and life to businesses and workers who have struggled to stay afloat during COVID-19.

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“One of the goals of this program would be to help reinvigorate those businesses, get people back into those hotels, help support the workers who are running these events, spaces and venues and that kind of thing,” Kilburg said. 

The application was announced on Sept. 9 and will last through 2026 or until funding is exhausted. Pfeiffer said the program is looking for long-lasting and exciting initiatives that will keep people coming back annually. 

On the 15th of every month, the applications received are sent to a volunteer committee who will review and score them. Those accepted will be announced at the end of every month, Pfeiffer said.

Currently, the Iowa City Tourism Grant Program has admitted one application and is in the process of reviewing more, he said. This event, if accepted, would be an initiative brand new to Iowa City and Pfeiffer said he is confident it would attract visitors.

“We haven’t seen it around here before and it would definitely draw some eyes and be a new thing for the area,” Pfeiffer said.

In the long-term, Pfeiffer said he hopes this grant opportunity will keep people intrigued and satisfied enough that they want to come back again and again.  

“If we can get new events that are on different times of the calendar that are successful and get people wanting to travel to Iowa City to check them out, that’d be ideal to me,” he said.