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New Pioneer Co-op relocation vote met with mixed feelings

BY DEREK KELLISON | APRIL 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa City New Pioneer Co-op is one step closer to approaching new life closer to downtown. But despite Board of Directors members insistence the new store will offer more local produce, some are concerned it will lose its community vibe.

March 31 was the final day Co-op members could vote on the proposition to relocate the business, currently 22 S. Van Buren St., to the intersection of Gilbert and College Streets. If it passes, the New Pioneer board will further develop the proposition before sending it to the Iowa City City Council around May 1.

New Pioneer officials said they see voters supporting the move because of the proposed store's larger size — 10,000 square feet more than the current location — and storage capabilities.

"With the expansion, we'll be able to accommodate for buying more local produce," said Board of Directors Treasurer Henry Madden. "We are looking into buying more from local vendors every year."

The current cost of the new building is estimated between $7.5 million and $8.5 million. Madden also predicted millions of dollars in business taxes for using the plots of land picked for the new site.
The board released a statement detailing other reasons for the move, such as escaping the floodplain, gaining a loading dock, and competing with chain grocery stores. Yet some members of the public — and one board member — are concerned the move's focus on business alone is too narrow.

"The board should keep its eyes open for new possibilities," said board Secretary Caroline Dieterle, also a DI employee. "People have been bought into the common feeling that they have to keep growing. This is coming from national figures, but you can't extrapolate national figures to what's happening locally."

However, she said, she would support the move if it attracted enough customers.

New Pioneer President Sarah Waltz also supported the move.

"Yes, we anticipate that customers and employees are with us," she said. "The move to the new building will be beneficial for customers, not just the store itself."

Co-op member Bonnie Orgren dismissed the floodplain concerns as a "red herring" and said the Co-op is focusing too much on competition and not enough on other possibilities.

"Before I ran for the board, people wanted different options from the store; for example, cooking classes," she said. "There are a lot of possibilities. [New Pioneer] needs to think more about education, not business. Otherwise they will lose what makes them a co-op."

Dylan Jeffery, a City High freshman who works for the Co-op, said the business would lose key aspects if moved to a bigger store.

"The general feel [at the current store] is very relaxed," he said. "In comparison, the Coralville store is too corporate-feeling."

Still, some members said the relocation is necessary.

"I like the store because there is so much local produce," Iowa City resident Lynn Partridge said. "I think the arguments about the floodplain and space are reasonable. Parking is parking; the way I see it is a lower priority."

The board statement predicted increased gross sales because of new attraction to the store. If this anticipated reaction fails to occur, officials wrote it will still "comfortably manage" without the increased profit.

Madden said the Co-op members voting results should be tallied this week.


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