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City officials look south

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | NOVEMBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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When the floods of 2008 damaged a large portion of Iowa City, some officials saw it as more of an opportunity than a setback.

Because of the availability of funding and the need to renovate, city leaders are now planning major changes to the Riverfront Crossings District — an area that extends south of Burlington Street to Highway 6 — and they’re calling on officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help.

“There is so much potential in this area,” said John Frece, the director of the EPA’s Smart Growth Program, who arrived in Iowa City this week to help present plans.

Federal and state officials will tour the district and begin to develop a plan specific to Iowa City today, based on model plans presented during an information session Wednesday.

Because the project is still in the early stages, no cost figures are set. Though, the plans include possibly moving the city’s wastewater-treatment plant, which would take roughly $63 million, said Karen Howard, an Iowa City assistant planner.

The Riverfront Crossings District is an ideal area for development, officials said. With more than 30,000 university students and around 1,600 jobs in walking distance, the neighborhood already has a 24-7 vibe and is appealing to young people — all qualities communities strive for, said Jeff Davidson, the Iowa City planning director.

City officials had planned to revamp the area before the flooding, but the record water levels were a driving factor, adding both a sense of urgency and the availability of federal funding for the project, Davidson said. Necessary rebuilding, when utilized correctly, will allow Iowa City to increase the community’s quality, he said.

“We need to make sure we don’t waste a perfectly good natural disaster,” Davidson said. “The 2008 flood hastened the need to consider redevelopment of this area.”

During Wednesday’s kickoff presentation in the newly finished Johnson County Human Services Building, officials discussed smart growth tactics, including building efficiently by creating compact walking streets, good design, and proper use of space. Officials also encouraged developing public transit in the area, such as the proposed Amtrak service.

Bill Nusser, the owner of Hands Jewelry, 109 E. Washington St., described the area as “lackluster,” with a lot of potential for improvement.

The Iowa City native said he believes the renovations would be a great addition for both residents and businesses, noting the plan includes commercial, residential, and recreational spaces.

“It’s a tremendous idea,” he said. “It’d be a wise thing for Iowa City to do.”

Those involved with the project want to make the best decision for Iowa City, said Victor Dover, the principal in charge of Dover Kohl and Partners, an urban design firm.

“We want to measure twice and then cut,” Dover said.

Officials have not set a definitive plan of action for the project. They’re asking for community input during two sessions on Friday — an open house at noon and public input session at 5:30 p.m. Both will be held in the Johnson County Human Services Building.


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