Aggressive downtown Iowa City marketing campaign in the works


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With an onslaught of downtown high-rise buildings planned or under construction, the continued redevelopment of many historic structures, and a slew of new beautification initiatives, the Iowa City Downtown District is hoping its new marketing campaigns can capitalize on the transformation.

One of the most prominent aspects is the “You are Here” campaign that dominates the district’s website, print advertising, and public spaces, such as near Moen Group’s Park @ 201 14-story building site and city parking garages.

Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird believes rebranding efforts such as the “You are Here” campaign will help make the area better well-rounded, connecting beyond its street boundaries.

“We want to make sure the mix is more balanced so that we have a more 24-hour lifestyle,” she said. “I think in the past, we’ve been known for great restaurants and shops, but we want to do more than that. We want to connect with people.”

Bird points to the recent Tree Huggers and BenchMarks art initiatives as examples of the public connection necessary for downtown to remain a vital community focal point. She said one of the main goals for downtown is to ensure an inviting, clean, and safe environment.

“I think our biggest goal with some of the participatory art is that we want to evoke some sense of emotion so that you’re thinking downtown,” she said. “You’re not going to stroll through without having to think creatively.”

The city is also looking to alleviate the overall concern of parking downtown by hosting two public input sessions next month. Following the two sessions, city officials will draft a proposal and present it to the Iowa City City Council for further discussion.

Sandra Navalesi, the owner of women’s clothing boutique Dulcinea, 2 S. Dubuque St., called the new push for marketing downtown proactive and said she is looking forward to the perception and image of downtown transition as the “it place to be,” with additional outdoor dining options, public art, and points of interest.

“Promoting downtown and creating that experience is No. 1, the idea that people are going to leave and talk about it in a positive way,” she said.

Assistant to City Manager Geoff Fruin said the city is 100 percent behind the work that the Downtown District has done thus far and that the feedback from the community has been positive.

Up-to-date costs of the new downtown marketing campaigns were not available as of Wednesday evening, but Fruin said approximately $250,000 in property taxes are collected from downtown businesses each year, which members of the district may use to their discretion.

“We have to be sure we’re investing in the core of our community,” he said. “Without healthy downtowns, the entire community suffers. I think the work that the district has done so far is really just scratching the surface.”

Josh Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City-Coralville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said downtowns are truly the heartbeat of all communities, and their success translates into success citywide.

“I think it’s a signature attraction,” Schamberger said. “I tell folks when they talk about the Ped Mall and downtown that it’s the most socially and culturally diverse set of square blocks in the state of Iowa.”

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