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Cohen to step down as head of downtown board

BY NORA HEATON | FEBRUARY 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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One of downtown Iowa City’s fiercest advocates will step out of the spotlight this summer.

Leah Cohen, the current president of Iowa City’s Downtown Association, will leave the position on June 1, six months before the close of her 2010 elected term.

“I’m ready to cut back on things,” said Cohen, who has been president since January 2009. “I have a couple of challenges with my own business, so I decided it’s time for me to exit public life.”

Cohen is the owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St. The restaurant and bar is facing a possible 30-day loss of liquor license this spring after failing an alcohol-compliance check on Jan. 30, 2009.

Cohen said she plans to challenge the charge.

Illegal alcohol consumption and related issues have historically been a concern for the Downtown Association, which promotes downtown Iowa City.

But much of the board’s attention also goes toward creating a safe downtown for residents, shoppers, and visitors. For example, the association recently undertook the introduction of monitor cameras on the Pedestrian Mall. Cohen said she hopes to complete the installation before June.

It has not always been easy to accommodate both city officials’ concerns about downtown businesses and the interests of owners, said Iowa City City Councilor Regenia Bailey. But Cohen has been instrumental in representing downtown interests to the city in an amenable way, Bailey said.

“Leah has always had a pretty visible relationship with the City Council and city staff,” Bailey said. “She was very good about bringing issues to council that concerned downtown businesses.”

Aside from administrative concerns, Cohen has promoted a sense of community downtown, said Takanami owner George Etre, and she consistently worked to represent retailers in addition to bars and restaurants.

“I think that’s the key to what made her so successful,” said Etre, who recently sold his downtown bar Et Cetera. “She brought all of downtown together.”

Still, Cohen said, bar owners are a key presence downtown and are underrepresented in the Downtown Association. She considers herself one of few bar owners active in the community.

Nonetheless, downtown businesses will be left in the hands of a “superior board of directors,” of which Cohen said she will remain a part. The board has already established a committee to select new leadership.

Bailey said she expects and hopes the next president will be as communicative with the City Council as Cohen was.

“Downtown is a critical part of the city,” she said.

Cohen will see transition in her personal life when she steps down, she said.

“I’ve been in public life and working with the community for a lot of years,” said Cohen, who also served as co-chairwoman of the Iowa City Alcohol Advisory Board for four years and sits on the UI’s Partnership for Alcohol Safety. “I have a little home in Arizona I’d like to go back to and enjoy a little bit of early retirement.”


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