North Side Iowa City looks for clear identity, financial support

BY ADAM SALAZAR | JUNE 15, 2009 7:26 AM

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Unused newspaper stands, an abandoned bike rack left to rust, and weeds flowering from the cracks of uneven bricks mark a part of downtown that follows a slower rhythm than its rowdy neighbor, the Pedestrian Mall.

While many enjoy North Side’s “pleasant” and “peaceful” environment, some tenants and business owners say they want city councilors — who designated the neighborhood a historical district early this month — to treat them like the downtown in certain aspects: safety and economic stability.

“We feel like we’re being stepped on,” said Naftaly Stramer, an owner of Oasis, 206 N. Linn St. “It’s always been the case; we don’t get the same treatment as downtown.”

Along with 17 other business owners in the neighborhood, Stramer met with Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey and Director for Economic Development Wendy Ford on May 27 to discuss the issues. He said there is a of lack physical capital and support from the City Council.

The main concern discussed at the meeting was the condition of the sidewalk on both sides of Linn Street.

“It’s dark; there are no trash cans,” said Cindy Clark, a co-owner of IC Uglies Saloon, 210 N. Linn St. “We have a lot of desirable businesses down here, but our streets are not desirable.”

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On the day of the meeting with city officials, a woman carrying her infant child fell outside of the Hamburg Inn, 214 N. Linn St. A gap between the sidewalk and the outlying brick section allegedly caused the fall.

The woman reportedly injured her ankle. The next day, city maintenance workers laid asphalt in the gap — and others — that ran along the sidewalk between Market and Bloomington Streets.

It’s not that the councilors haven’t tried. In 2000, the city’s financial situation reportedly quashed the Capital Improvement Program, which was aimed to revamp the North Side Marketplace District.

The city had to borrow money to fund the program, which presented five years’ worth of prospective streetscape projects.

North Side entrepreneurs missed the latest deadline for approving the city’s budget, however. There will be no improvements to the sidewalk until the July 1, 2010.

But business owners have one more beef with city officials. Merchants want help in marketing the neighborhood, hoping to attract students and tourists who tend to flock to the central quadrant of downtown.

“It seemed to me that if we didn’t brand ourselves as downtown, we wouldn’t get the same attention,” said Nialle Sylvan, the owner of the Haunted Bookstore, 203 N. Linn St.

Sylvan, who took over the space five months ago, said she would like the city to loosen parking restrictions, extending meters to an additional hour or by building a nearby parking ramp. City-owned facilities should be available for events that could bring crowds to the North Side, she said.

The North Siders said they want improved signage outside the area as well. But Ford said the establishments themselves should undertake the image makeover themselves. They could host events as private entities, for example.

“The ingenuity has to come from them, to have a festival or to have permission from the Downtown Association or Summer of the Arts,” Ford said.

The mayor agreed.

“The city isn’t responsible for making the neighborhood a success,” said Bailey, and timing, budget constraints, and demand for other projects in the city play into how officials distribute money for specific neighborhoods.

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