City manager: We're not trying to push students away

BY JON FRANK | MAY 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City City Manager Tom Markus said officials aren't trying to push University of Iowa students out of downtown — they would instead like to simply add more permanent residents.

Markus spoke to a group of local business people Tuesday as part of a meet and greet at Share Wine Lounge, 210 S. Dubuque St.

The former Birmingham, Mich., city manager presented his view on the future of Iowa City, which includes residential development and new commercial offices. Markus spoke about his ideas on shifting downtown into the 21-ordinance era.

"Downtown is a major part of what we're trying to do to grow our economy," Markus said, and he hopes to achieve "a sustainable balance."

At a work session Monday night, the Iowa City City Council discussed the shifting downtown landscape and the necessity for new, nonalcohol-related businesses. Those talks also involved solutions to an increasing number of student-centered housing in the area.

"There's been an imbalance toward entertainment, alcohol, and I think that's somewhat being addressed," Markus said.

He said he hopes the city can attract retail students would use. He pointed to other university towns with such stores as Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie as positive examples of the use of retail.

"That's an incredible market strength," he said.

Markus also discussed the concept of a self-supported municipal-improvement district, calling the idea a "smart" move. The money generated from a tax increase for those in the district would go toward adding events and activities, recruiting new retailers, increasing maintenance, and hiring a downtown business-development manager.

"I think it gives [the business community] a stronger voice on issues that affect them," Markus said. "I think those are all positives."

He applauded the UI's plans for a downtown music building and the creation of a mixed-use facility at the intersection of Clinton and Burlington Streets.

"Those would be cultural attractions for our city and create a much more vibrant downtown," he said. "I think it has great bones … and I think it has great potential."

During his presentation, Markus addressed the recent announcement by the North American Ductile Iron Co. to build a foundry in Iowa City, which will employ roughly 175 people.

City Councilor Mike Wright lauded Markus for taking measures to bring jobs to Iowa City and said he's "doing a terrific job."

"The key for the city is to work and continue to expand to attract new business to Iowa City," he said.

Nancy Quellhorst, the president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce — who organized the luncheon — said she has been impressed with Markus' ability to gather public opinion regarding development plans.

"Tom takes a realistic, long-term, premeditated approach to economic development," she said. "I've never been more optimistic about the prospects for downtown Iowa City."

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