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Students bring life to downtown Iowa City

BY GUEST OPINION | APRIL 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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I couldn't help but enjoy Bob Thompson's April 18 perspective on the false image of downtown that the Iowa City City Council seems intent to project on our reality.

It was refreshing to see another Iowa City resident share my feelings about the direction the business community and City Hall has chosen to take this town. It is no surprise to me that Coralville has outfoxed and outmaneuvered Iowa City in both attracting and growing retail business.

Say what you will, but this town exists because of the 30,000 or so students who attend the University of Iowa. The university's proximity to downtown has always been, in my 65 years, a meeting place for students to gather and spend their free time — and considerable dollars. True, there have always been problems associated with the overuse of alcohol; I remember the same problems back in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Of course, back then, there were fewer students, and the town's population was smaller; therefore, the number of offenses was fewer. We don't need a half-million dollar consulting fee — paid with by taxpayer money — to figure that out.

But I am curious: Just how many parents of 5- to 15-year-old children are taking these children to downtown Iowa City after 10 p.m.? That is when most of the activity in the old downtown attracted the students. The ideologues that Thompson and I are united in condemning must assume that bead shops, coffee shops, and knickknack artsy-fartsy retailers are where parents plan to bring their children in the evenings.

I doubt it. But maybe Toys 'R' Us or other retailers will come in to create a late-evening family atmosphere.

No, wait: Coralville has the mall, where national retailers, theaters, ice skating, a carousel, and many other events are readily available for families until 9 p.m.

We shall see if the old vibrant, multicultural, youthful, and, yes, sometimes very lively late-night Iowa City disappears at the behest of the City Council. I have seen Iowa City try to remake itself before with malls, Pedestrian Malls, urban renewal, etc., but one constant remains: the students and their dollars. Piss the students off too much, and they will eventually push back. This should be interesting to watch.

John Cochran is an Iowa City resident who recently retired from food service at Burge Hall.


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