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

Iowa City’s MERGE space provides entrepreneur resources, gathering space

The space, located in the Pedestrian Mall, has been available since 2017 and is here to stay for four more years after the Iowa City City Council approved the renewal of its lease.
Isabella Tisdale
MERGE Iowa City is seen on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. MERGE offers a space for networking and coworking in Iowa City.

MERGE, a community space with resources for businesses and entrepreneurs, will continue to be a resource for Iowa City residents after its lease was renewed by the city council on Feb. 20.

The space is located within the Pedestrian Mall at the west end of the Iowa City Public Library. It offers office and event spaces as well as mentorship and networking opportunities for business owners.

The property is owned by the city and leased out to Greater Iowa City, Inc. for a reduced rent rate, according to the Feb. 20 agenda. Greater Iowa City pays the city $2,000 a month, and the city uses this reduced rate as a way to support MERGE, the agenda states. According to city staff, it is difficult to determine how this compares to other nearby rent rates because of all the factors that can make rent prices vary, but $2,000 a month for a downtown space is a competitive rate.

Rachel Kilburg Varley, the city’s economic development coordinator, said there are not any other spaces located in Iowa City that have all the resources or the prime location that MERGE has.

“I think it’s an important asset for our economic development ecosystem because of all the different entities that collaborate in the space,” Kilburg Varley said.

While there are a lot of business-oriented resources housed in MERGE, the space is available for use by the community. In an email to The Daily Iowan, Liz Hubing, Greater Iowa City’s senior director of workforce and business innovation, wrote the space is open for community events as well as business meetings.

“For the community, we offer an affordable event space that can be used for anything from fashion shows to graduation parties, community lectures, and more,” Hubing wrote. “We like to refer to MERGE as the ‘living room of Iowa City’ because we are truly a space that welcomes everyone.”

Greater Iowa City staff operates and maintains the space and sets up the different programs that are run in the space, such as educational workshops and networking opportunities, Hubing wrote. There are always Greater Iowa City staff members within MERGE so if an individual needs assistance or advice, they can go straight to staff in the building, she wrote.

The space is also home to some programs through the University of Iowa, which is one of the partners involved in the space, according to the agenda. Jeff Kueter, the director of corporate engagement at the UI, said three different organizations and programs at the university use the space.

One UI program is Protostudios, for which Kueter serves as interim director. Protostudios uses MERGE as a space for faculty members, students, and community members to develop and prototype a product with the help of a staff member.

UI Ventures, an organization that supports business startups, also utilizes MERGE for its services, Kueter said. Lastly, the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center uses MERGE to host events, such as alumni lectures and networking opportunities for students, he said.

Kueter said MERGE serves an important role as a gathering space for connections to be made among professionals and community members as well as a place that supports business owners with resources and advice.

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“Places where these activities are nurtured and supported are critical,” Kueter said. “So, the creation of the MERGE filled an important hole in the Iowa City innovation ecosystem.”

MERGE has been in operation since 2017 Hubing said. Greater Iowa City’s lease for the space was set to expire at the end of February. On Feb. 20, the city council unanimously approved renewing the lease for four more years.

As of now, MERGE is one of the only spaces of its kind in Iowa City, but that will change soon. Dream City, an Iowa City organization that advocates for and supports inclusive economic development, is set to receive a $3 million grant that will allow them to build a space similar to MERGE in the southern part of Iowa City.

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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.
Isabella Tisdale
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.