City launches 'Inspire Downtown'

BY EMMA WILLIS | JUNE 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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Despite its continued popularity, city officials and local residents say downtown Iowa City needs to be refreshed.

An upcoming yearlong initiative will launch today, bringing with it a series of community think-tank workshops.

Inspire Downtown, a joint venture among the city, the Downtown District, and various community outlets, will seek to develop a blueprint of the future look of downtown spaces.

The campaign includes a Mindmixer, an online community engagement website on which community members can express their ideas and opinions pertaining to the progress they wish to see downtown, as well as a series of three public input meetings.

The website lets community members log on and share their ideas by uploading pictures and giving feedback on upcoming proposals.

The first meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.

With the primary steps of the project in the beginning stages, several closed meetings will take place during the next two days to gather input from businesses, city officials, and others. The master plan will focus on “public-space components necessary for a successful, contemporary streetscape,” according to a city press release.

Since the last major design update for downtown and the Pedestrian Mall took place in the late 1990s, Assistant to the City Manager Geoff Fruin said there is much needed maintenance to be had.

“This is a project where public involvement is absolutely critical,” he said. “We want to know what they like about the current downtown and what they’d like to change.”

To help with the project, the city has hired Des Moines-based Genus Landscape Architects and the Denver-based studioINSITE planning firms as consultants. Genus has gathered data from recent weeks of research to help provide concept suggestions, which will be presented in upcoming meetings.

Components of the streetscape plan include updated public seating and lighting, future accommodations for automobile, bus, bicycle and pedestrian uses, expanded trees and planting options, and signage and special-events improvements.

The money for the project will come from a $285,500 general-obligation bond and will pay for consulting costs and design selection.

Fruin said this online extension of the campaign allows officials to reach more members of the extended Iowa City audience, including University of Iowa alumni as well as students who are away over the summer months. He said he ready for a range of perspectives in the upcoming months to come forward.

“There are a lot of strong feelings about downtown Iowa City,” he said. “We want to hear what those are, good or bad.”

As the process continues throughout 2013, the plan is for Genus to take the suggested concepts and create three different designs, which will then be presented at a public meeting. From there, community members will be able to give their input, with a final decision set to be reached in November, and the goal of project completion ending in early 2014.

Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District, sees the community input aspect as a great opportunity for the district, and she said her hope is for the public to go away with a better understanding of the initiatives in place.

Although Bill Nusser, the president-elect of the Downtown District, agreed, he said he expects the campaign to garner negative feedback as well.

“This is a town where everybody has an opinion,” he said, “No two opinions are the same.”

City Councilor Susan Mims said the unfortunate side of the downtown master plan was in the hiring of outside consultants.

Tom Fabiano, a 1988 graduate of the University of Iowa, said he sees Iowa City’s downtown as an already great place for business and infrastructure but liked the idea of additional festivals.

But for two UI students, still more remains desired.

“We definitely don’t need more bars,” UI senior and management major Ashley Kostos said. “I’d like to see more stores, like Forever 21, or even a grocery store like Hy-Vee.”

UI sophomore and business major Lindsey Lovik said she’d like to see one current relationship grow further.

“Iowa City needs to work more with the university to create an atmosphere that’s not based around drinking,” she said.

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