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Riverfront Crossings gets some bad reviews

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | NOVEMBER 18, 2009 7:21 AM

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Will Ingles’ bookstore was built in 1859, when the building was used as a stagecoach layover station and later as a Pony Express station.

But now city officials are planning a renovation project in the area, known as the Riverfront Crossings District, that contains Ingles’ the Book Shop, 608 S. Dubuque St.

“I know things change,” he said. “But change is not always welcome by those who have no input.”

He said he was concerned when representatives from one of the urban-design firms showed little knowledge about the area. They were unaware of his shop’s history and other aspects, such as the location of the Iowa City Post Office — a building less than a block away.

Ingles — and some other residents — said they’re concerned they will have limited say in decisions, while others have praised the project.

During three sessions open to the public last week, Iowa City officials, members of the Environmental Protection Agency, and representatives from two urban-design firms shared ideas and gathered public opinions on changes to the area in discussion — the Riverfront Crossings District — which extends south of Burlington Street to Highway 6.

Some said they fear the city did not gather enough public input during a brief visit. While a handful of residents agree changes such as adding streetlights and planting trees would increase appeal, they also seem satisfied with the district as is.

Ashley Wunderlich, a UI leisure-studies student, said she likes the atmosphere of the district.

Wunderlich rents an apartment at 624 S. Dubuque St., a building that once served as a hotel. The UI senior said the area is secluded, even when trains rumble by less than a block south.

“It’s nice and quiet here; we don’t mind the train,” she said. “It may be more appealing to grad students, who spend less time partying.”

This partying scene commonly found amid the downtown Iowa City bars is one issue residents of the Riverfront Crossings District say they want to avoid.

Barb Farnsworth, the owner of Her Soup Kitchen, an eatery at 625 S. Dubuque St., agreed that bringing a nice, family atmosphere back to the area would be good for residents and business owners.

While downtown bar life appeals to a short-term student audience, Farnsworth — who opened her establishment earlier this month — sees more middle-age customers.

“It would be good to bring back the family setting to this area,” she said.

This increase in a friendly atmosphere could be achieved through one of the issues discussed during planning — an Amtrak rail service.

If a renovation ensues, the old Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Depot building might be reopened as a station, said Karen Howard, an Iowa City assistant planner. This may, in turn, lead to use of the Chicago-Iowa City rail line as well as a line to Cedar Rapids for people. The latter of the two rail lines would help Iowa City and Cedar Rapids grow and share ideas, Farnsworth said.

A renovation on a scale this large would take time, Howard noted.

“We’re planting the seeds for thought,” she said. “It’s up to the community to decide.”

Ted Pacha, the owner of Theo Resources, 610 S. Dubuque St., said he has heard very little about renovation plans. Pacha, who owns a large portion of the buildings on the 600 block of South Dubuque Street, said he believes much more community input needs to be gathered so the city doesn’t “put the cart in front of the horse.”

The Iowa City resident said these plans for change seem to come and go in Iowa City, pointing to a copy of a previous development plan from 1995.

“It’s pretty disconcerting,” the skeptical property owner said. “I don’t get too excited about it.”


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