UI, city want to cooperate on downtown


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University of Iowa and Iowa City officials said they want to collaborate in attracting more college-centered retailers to downtown.

On May 17, Iowa City city councilors are scheduled to discuss whether they'll hire John Millar, the executive vice president of Divaris Real Estate Company, to perform consulting services for the project.

Millar's strategic-assessment service would cost $50,000 and the price would be split between the city and university. Results from the assessment would help the city provide information to potential retailers who may tend to shy away from university towns.

Millar is an expert in economic development who came to Iowa City in February to speak about the "hidden costs" of university towns.

He has completed similar ventures with university towns, including the development of Town Center at Toftrees in State College, Pa., a mixed-use project including retail, housing, and entertainment.

Iowa City has great potential to attract national retailers, a message with which city officials identified, Millar said.

Jeff Davidson, the city's director of planning and development, said officials were interested in Millar soon after his visit to Iowa City. They liked his message of reaching out to potential retailers to show them the economic benefits that establishing businesses in a college town can bring.

"We realized now we have to do more of that outreach," Davidson said.

This is just another piece in the city's efforts to beautify and revitalize the downtown, he said. The city recently approved local developer Marc Moen's application for funding to bring a national retailer into the location of the now-closed Vito's bar, 118 E. College St.

"I hope [the project] signifies to the rest of the community our commitment to downtown … and continue the momentum we've had," Davidson said.

Officials said the initiative will further improve the relationship between the city and university, one that grew significantly during the 21-ordinance debate.

"I like the collaboration between the city and university because it does affect both the university and the city," said Iowa City City Councilor Terry Dickens. "The more communication between the two … it makes for a smoother transition, and it makes for a better fit."

Dickens said this latest collaboration will be another big step in the university-city relationship.

"We basically realized we get so much more synergy by working together," said George Hollins, the UI business manager. "So when the opportunity came for John Millar to do some demographic studies, we thought it would increase a product that both of us can use."

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