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Iowa City spending $15,000 on downtown survey

BY JENNY EARL | SEPTEMBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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A community survey is the most recent step in Iowa City officials’ data collecting to improve the downtown area.

The survey is designed to allow community members, faculty, staff, and students to provide input on what retail they would like to see downtown.

Though John Millar, the head consultant for Iowa City, knows there will be input from community members, he said he is concerned there will not be enough students will participate.

The 17-question survey — which costs roughly $15,000 — has been active since Labor Day weekend and has had 250 respondents. Millar said he hopes to have roughly 1,200 respondents by the end of September. As of Tuesday, he said, only 17 students have taken the survey.

“We really need a massive response from the student population because we value their input because the downtown is theirs as much as anyone else’s,” he said.

Millar is the executive vice president and principal of Divaris Real Estate Inc., the firm hired by the Iowa City City Council to lead the downtown project.

“In a sense, [the survey is] a fishing expedition to get a feeling of what the community believes needs to be present in the downtown that may or may not already be there,” said Iowa City City Councilor Mike Wright.

But the data collected will not be the only information officials consider.

“When you give folks in Iowa City an opportunity for input, you usually get a pretty good response,” said Wendy Ford, the city economic-development coordinator. “This survey, however, only represents a part of the research being done.”

Millar said he has completed another set of economic data exploring the city’s “hidden economies.”

He said the retailers often look at census data to determine where to open businesses. The census data from university towns do not accurately reveal what Millar says are postive economic impacts students bring in, because they write in zero on their annual household income on census forms.

In order to appeal to retailers who look at these factors, Millar made a new demographic analysis by researching zip codes of the average income of families in those areas into the census. Though Millar did not disclose his research, he said his research significantly improves the city’s data.

“I pretty much understand the hidden econonmies that do not show up in the census,” he said.

Millar said the survey serves as a “psychographic” that should further support the data he has collected.

Though Millar hasn’t spoken to students personally, he said the survey will provide more accurate input than talking to a few students.

He said he hopes to present the data to city officials before the end of the year.


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