Coralville Strip "near full recovery"


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Just five years after floodwaters ravaged the business community along the Coralville Strip, commerce is bustling, and there’s cautious confidence among many businesses that line the south banks of the Iowa River and Clear Creek that the city’s mitigation efforts will protect them should floodwaters once again threaten them.

Debbie Bullion, who has been general manager of Heartland Inn, 87 Second St., for the past 14 years, remembers the devastation that the 2008 flood wrought.

“Driving down the Strip after the flood, it was just like a war zone … there was not a light on,” she said. “There was just nothing but mud and smell.  It was desolate because no one was open.”

Bullion said during the historic natural disaster, the hotel took on more than 3 feet of water but managed to reopen with 110 rooms on the building’s second and third floors.

Twelve weeks and $1.5 million later, it became the first flood-damaged business along the Strip to fully reopen.

Rachel Schunk, the vice president of communications for the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, said approximately 150 Coralville businesses were affected by 2008 floodwaters.  

While many businesses were able to draw upon insurance and other resources to rebuild, she said, the Chamber of Commerce teamed with the cities of Coralville and Iowa City, the Community Foundation of Johnson County, and a number of private contributions to create the Small Business Recovery Fund. The fund offered grants of up to $5,000 to support cleanup and inspection expenses. In all, the fund provided $300,000 to 64 businesses in Coralville and Iowa City.

Now, five years later, a visitor new to area might not imagine that it had sustained such damage so recently.

Josh Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said the area has experienced a “full recovery” and believes the town’s flood-mitigation projects has created a very “sound plan” in place to protect the Strip from future floods.

“You can go up and down the Strip there, and businesses have returned,” he said. “I think the community would have been very proud of the efforts taken over the last five years and just these past couple months, if the water had crashed over the spillway [this year].”

To date, Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said, $64 million has been poured into mitigation efforts since 2008, and he noted that protecting local businesses has been a priority for the city.

“From the city’s perspective, the biggest thing we’ve been able to do to help them is provide permanent flood protection so they don’t have to worry about this in the future,” he said. “We’ve come a long ways from 2008, but we still have a ways to go.”

Currently, the city is constructing a pump station along Clear Creek behind Monica’s restaurant set to be completed this winter, Hayworth said. It will prevent a surge in the storm-sewer system that flooded the low-lying parking lot and businesses south of Highway 6, he said.

Constructing a permanent floodwall along the creek’s south bank is the last piece of the Strip’s flood-mitigation puzzle, he said. To this end, he said, the city is seeking approximately $8 million to construct a 3-foot-high concrete wall to run the length of the creek bank between First Avenue and the Second Street Clear Creek bridge.  

He said the permanent wall would also be expandable to protect from flooding up to a foot above the high-water mark of 2008.

Wendy Netolicky, owner of Fired Up! Nutrition, 119 Second St. Suite 300, opened in a previously unoccupied space in Liberty Square in May 2012.

Netolicky was able to negotiate a lower rent based upon flood concerns. Those same flood concerns, however, made her second-guess her initial investment when the waters of Clear Creek once again began to rise this year.

Similar to other Strip businesses, she began preparations for evacuating her building in recent weeks, including the removal of all of her furniture, after city officials began preparing for the worst on May 30.

Within two days, a row of 3-foot-high HESCO barriers had been strung along the south bank of Clear Creek where the city intends to eventually build its permanent barrier.

“I mean they were just on it — and our landlords, too,” she said. “Everyone was just out there working nonstop.”

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