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Snow Removal Program targeted for improved downtown Iowa City accessibility

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | MARCH 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa City and Downtown District officials are hoping a nearly two-month pilot snow-removal program will aid in the transformation of a heavily traveled city center.

From Dec. 1, 2012, through Jan. 31, the Downtown District spent $15,000 in the removal of snow between the traditional downtown core and North Side Marketplace, affecting nearly 280 businesses that cover approximately 1.2 million square feet of commercial development. Quality Care Lawn Care and Hawkeye Construction and Snow Removal contracted the first-year comprehensive program.

“[With the program], we didn’t want snow to be the deterrent to people coming downtown to shop locally,” Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District said. “When I first got here, I had people tell me that downtown was so treacherous and unsafe during the winter. At the end of the day, it’s all about perception. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

The money for the snow removal was set aside in the budget, and Bird said officials plan to revisit the program next year.

Many downtown businesses had their own snow removal methods, she said, so feedback from the commercial standpoint was mixed. In regards to the public eye however, she said, opinions have been positive.

Linda Newman Woito, a former city employee, said in a Feb. 18 email to Bird that she was glad snow removal has received additional attention from the city and the district.

“As a devotee of the Ped Mall, I especially want to thank you  for cleaning snow off the sidewalks and Ped Mall in a timely fashion.  Honestly, I would limit my routes downtown … where the sidewalks were not well cleared of snow and ice … I look forward to … other amenities returning to the Downtown,” she wrote.

George Etre, the owner of Formosa and Takanami, said he has been pleased with the first year, despite some minor hiccups along the way. 

“So far, we’ve seen a lot of positive reaction,” he said. “You can tell over all downtown that it gets cleared pretty well. “I’ve seen more people walking around, especially adults and families.”

Matthew Theobald, a co-owner and manager of the Soap Opera, 119 E. College St., said the relatively small snowfall numbers have led him to become skeptical about the program’s hopes of bringing more people to downtown.

“I have not seen an increase in business, and this year has not been a good year to judge because we’ve had limited and very modest snowfall,” he said. “The snow removal has been fine, but I doubt a snow-removal program can be the thing to bring more people downtown.”

Quality Care Vice President of Operations Geoff Wilming said dividing responsibilities between two companies not only results in cost savings for the contractors but for participating businesses as well.

The company, along with Hawkeye Construction and Snow Removal aim for complete snow removal before the majority of downtown businesses open their doors, but it all depends on Mother Nature.

“For us to be the whole thing is logistically easier,” he said. “The unit cost is less expensive. We’re just expanding the footprint of what we’re doing already [downtown]. A beautiful downtown Iowa City is in the best interest of the whole community.”


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