The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

IC residents advocate for downtown gathering space in open lot

Many see the empty lot on the corner of Washington and Linn Street as a place full of opportunity to add to the vibrancy and community downtown.
Ava Neumaier
Long-time Iowa City resident Rob Dietrich poses for a portrait at the corner of Washington Street and Linn Street on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. Dietrich is rallying for the open lot across from the Senior Center on Linn Street to be turned into a green space for all ages to appreciate.

Looking out the windows of the Senior Center, Rob Dietrich sees an empty lot surrounded by a chain link fence and full of gravel, chunks of concrete, and weeds. 

Something Dietrich also sees while looking at the lot on 21 S. Linn St. that others may not, is an opportunity to construct a community gathering space right in the heart of downtown.

A resident of Iowa City, Dietrich has advocated for a public park to be built on the empty lot on Linn Street. He said he sees the lot as an opportunity to create a gathering space for the community, whether it be as a paved plaza or a green space with benches and trees.

The City of Iowa City purchased the lot for $4.5 million in July from CA Ventures, a real estate investment company, after the company decided it no longer wished to own the property as stated in the July 11 city council meeting agenda.

Before indicating that they no longer wanted the property, CA Ventures bought the site in 2021 from U.S. Bank with the intention of constructing an apartment complex.

In the past, the site was the location of the original Iowa City City Hall, which was demolished in 1962.

Iowa City City Manager Geoff Fruin told The Daily Iowan that no decisions have been made by the city on how to develop the property yet. He said the city’s intentions are to work toward redevelopment plans for the site in 2024 and 2025.

Fruin said the city decided to purchase this lot rather than letting CA Ventures sell it themselves because the city wanted to have more control over what would end up being developed on the site.

“We felt that we'd be able to ensure that long-term community goals were met if we were able to control the property, buy it, and then basically work to find partners that shared those common goals with the city,” Fruin said.

Other examples of the city successfully redeveloping the public-owned property for private purposes are the Hotel Chauncey and adjacent Chauncey Swan Park as well as Bread Garden Market and hotelVetro, Fruin said. 

Dietrich said he sees this site’s location across from the Senior Center as an opportunity make downtown Iowa City better for all the diverse groups of people who live in the city.

“Such a park on the original city hall site would enhance our downtown for all Iowa City residents, including students, but especially as a place to gather for older adults,” Dietrich wrote in an email to the City of Iowa City, which was obtained by the DI. 

Dietrich said in an interview with the DI that while he appreciates the vibrancy students bring to Iowa City, he does not think the city needs another high-end, expensive apartment complex near downtown. 

A lock dangles from a fence on the open lot across from the Senior Center on Linn Street on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (Ava Neumaier/The Daily Iowan)

He said he especially does not think the 21 S. Linn St. location should be turned into an apartment complex or a retail site because there are very few green spaces right in the middle of downtown.

“If you put in another downtown complex, you’re essentially getting rid of one of the only green spaces,” Dietrich said.

Iowa City resident Karen Kubby said she would like to see a mixed-use building, with retail on the ground floor and long-term housing on the floors above, constructed on 21 S. Linn St. rather than keeping it as green space.

As the city works through the long process of redevelopment, she said she would like to see the empty lot used as a temporary gathering space for community activities to make use of the open area while it’s there. 

According to the July meeting agenda, the city does plan to use the lot for this purpose throughout the redevelopment process. The agenda says the city will utilize the site for staging construction associated with Dubuque reconstruction and rehabilitation for the Senior Center.

Construction staging is a method contractors implement to make sure they disrupt the surrounding community as little as possible during the project, such as storing construction equipment in a place that would not obstruct traffic or parking.

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The Dubuque Street reconstruction project will take place sometime from spring to fall next year, Fruin said.

Fruin said maintaining green space and areas for community members to walk and bike in the downtown area is a priority for the city when it looks at redevelopment downtown. Fruin used College Green Park, Chauncey Swan Park, and the Pedestrian Mall as examples of this.

Whatever community members wish to see done with the 21 S. Linn St. lot, Dietrich said it is important to advocate and voice your opinions to the city on matters like this, so the city understands what the public wants.

“It’s in the city’s hands now, therefore we have a choice,” Dietrich said.

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About the Contributors
Isabelle Foland
Isabelle Foland, News Editor
Isabelle Foland is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Spanish. She is a second-year news reporter at The Daily Iowan, reporting mainly on Iowa City City Council. She is from Missouri Valley, Iowa and has reported for her hometown paper prior to her time at The DI.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.