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Downtown District celebrates progress

BY JULIA TRUSZKOWSKI | JUNE 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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Business and property owners of the 480-member Iowa City Downtown District on Thursday toasted their success at unifying downtown Iowa City over local food and drinks at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St.

“It’s important to celebrate what we’ve done,” Downtown District President Karen Kubby said.

And the Downtown District’s accomplishments since it was renamed on April 25, 2012, are worth celebrating.

From hosting such events as Taste of Iowa City, which showcased more than 40 local restaurants, to working with the city of Iowa City to clear the sidewalks of snow during the holidays, the Downtown District is taking strides in making downtown Iowa City more enjoyable for the 9,200 pedestrians that access it daily.

“We’re working as a unit instead of as individuals,” Kubby said. “We’re accomplishing things that we couldn’t individually but we can collectively.”

Kubby is to step down from as president at the end of the month. A new board of directors, headed by Hands Jewelers owner Bill Nusser, will begin on June 26.

Veronica Tessler, the owner of Yotopia Frozen Yogurt, values the “cross-promotion” that occurs among businesses downtown.

“There are lots of struggles that we have to overcome to get things done,” she said.

But through the “unified vision and work[ing] together” the Downtown District advocates, Kubby said, businesses such as Tessler’s are thriving.

Revival consignment store owner Sheila Davisson has noticed the same positive trend in her sales.

“[There has been an] increase of traffic in the store because of things that are happening downtown,” she said.

A key attention grabber in downtown Iowa City is the BenchMarks public-art initiative, in which more than 100 local artists were able to display their work on downtown benches.

Benchmarks 2.0, featuring all new designs, will begin in July.

Kubby said long-term projects, such as a downtown and Pedestrian Mall streetscape overhaul, are in no short supply.

She said the goal is to evaluate how the space downtown is being used currently and take feedback from the community to determine how to best use the area.

“We want people to linger and congregate on the Ped Mall,” she said.

By providing open space for pedestrians, the Downtown District hopes to sponsor additional Pedestrian Mall events such as Taste of Iowa City in the future.

Kubby works with the Downtown District Board of Directors to make this goal a reality. 

“This is not a passive board. We are actively working on committees every week,” she said. “I run meetings, which isn’t always an easy task. It’s important that we get business done in the time allotted.”

The board has been proactive in its mission, securing downtown Iowa City as the most walkable community in Iowa and eighth in the nation, said Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird.

She said as the district works at greatly diversifying its economic base, from retail to restaurants to office space, exciting times will continue.


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