Iowa City downtown, Riverfront Crossing plans intended to 'captivate' community


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Images of cities from San Antonio to Portland flashed across the screen as residents of Iowa City viewed the draft plan for downtown and Riverfront Crossings during an open house Monday evening.

“You look to Minneapolis and Omaha especially in this area and balance those with local suggestions,” said Doug Bisson, vice president of community planning and urban design at HDR, firm that consulted on the plan. “So we try to come up with key framework, and ideas that work anywhere.”

The draft plan included proposals such as an art district in the Gilbert Street area, a grand promenade connecting downtown Iowa City with a previously proposed park at the site of the wastewater treatment plant, and a focus on better using the Iowa River and Ralston Creek.

“The city kind of turns its back to the river, and our goal is to make it more public and more usable,” senior city planner Robert Miklo said after the meeting.

Iowa City residents and business owners were generally in favor of the plan but expressed concern about the time frame for completion.

“I think it’s a really good plan; it’s just going to take a long time to implement, because there’s a lot of infrastructure there, and a lot of current buildings,” community member Jessica Clark said.

One community member was concerned about the project’s affect on the history of the area.

“I’m concerned about the ambiance of the area, and if it would be overbuilt or overcrowded,” Holly Hart, said before the presentation. “I would like to keep more historic buildings, and we don’t have to have huge high rises or extremely expensive stores.”

Bisson said during the presentation the plan intends to preserve as many of the historic buildings as possible.

“[Historic buildings] are an important part of the fabric of downtown work to try to really maintain those structures,” he said.

He mentioned three properties: the Sabin School, Dubuque Street Cottages, and Tate Arms.

Planners involved in the draft stressed the long-term nature of the plan. Although, Miklo said, the park project should start sometime after 2014 and agreed with Bisson that short-term goals exist.

“It’s a long-term plan of 15 to 20 years,” Bisson said. “In the short term, there’s some low-hanging fruit including building confidence in the development."

Other community members expressed concern about the possible cost of the plan. Miklo said exact cost estimates for portions of the plan were not available at this point but stressed the “community needs to invest in making [the plan] a reality."

“[The money] has to come from someplace,” said Donna Hamm, the owner of Hamm’s Home Interiors, 1134S. Gilbert St. “Somebody, a developer or landlord, will have to make a significant investment in his or her current property to help this happen.”

The next step for the plan is for it to appear in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission, but planners stress the flexibility of the plan, stating nothing was final.

“We’re trying to captivate people, and we want to show you what it could be but it doesn’t have to be,” Jeff Davidson, the director Iowa City’s Planning and Development Department, said before ending the presentation.

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