Iowa City Downtown District welcomes new leadership

BY JULIA SHRIVER | JULY 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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After serving as the Iowa City Downtown District’s president for one and a half years, Karen Kubby is passing the job along. Bill Nusser, the owner of Hands Jewelers, begins his one-year term as president of the group this month.

Though no longer president, Kubby, the owner of Beadology Iowa, 220 E. Washington St., will serve on the executive committee in the past president position.

The organization recently decided that the executive board would elect a new president annually on a July to June calendar year, which accounts for Kubby’s extra six months.

Takanami and Formosa owner George Etre will serve as vice president, Treasurer Kent Jehle and Secretary Patty McCarthy will also serve the same term period.

“Our mission is to champion the [district] as a progressive, healthy, and culturally vibrant urban center in the region,” said Nancy Bird, the group’s executive director. “And our role is to provide vision and leadership.”

Bird said that of the district’s annual $500,000 budget, $280,000 comes from property-tax assessments from downtown properties and $100,000 comes from the University of Iowa. The remaining $120,000 comes from a variety of different sources, including community sponsors, fundraising, and the city.

The district was not always so well-funded and organized.  

When Kubby took the position of president in 2012, she helped solidify the organization’s framework.

“As we became an organization, we had to figure out our foundation documents, our organizational structure, and go through some strategic planning …” she said, calling the August 2012 hiring of Bird as executive director “one of our greatest accomplishments.”

“I think having a strong component of a community gallery has been really important for us because we are known as an arts economic district and we’ve done BenchMarks, and Tree Huggers, and plantings … and I think all those things create an atmosphere that says we are a community that values artistic endeavor,” Kubby said.

She said the district should do more to establish new partnerships similar to ones currently in place with the likes of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Although serving a brief stint, Kubby said that she is leaving the position with “no regrets” and is confident in Nusser’s ability to assume the role, citing among many things his “very historic perspective on downtown, which she thinks will be valuable contributions to the city center.

Nusser, in Hands, the owner one of the area’s oldest retail stores, 109 E. Washington St., said he has a lot of perspective that’s prepared him for the position of president. He participates in a number of downtown area organizations, including the Downtown Association, the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Iowa City Public Library, and the Iowa Arts Festival.

Nusser said that he primarily wants to ensure the continuation of the group’s current projects rather than propose new ones.

“It seems to me that the things that we’re working on are exactly the things that need to be worked on … there are a lot of people on our board that have great ideas and express them well, and my job is to really see that these great ideas get implemented,” he said.

In addition to the on-going work for a streetscape redesign, he said, he also wants to see more efficient recycling, cigarette receptacles, and the cleanup of alleys, while building on safety initiatives. He noted in particular the hiring of a David Schwindt as the downtown beat police officer.

Though many of the district’s plans are yet to be determined, Nusser said, he is confident in its mission and he feels honored to now serve as its president.

”It just feels like we’re creating a more substantial future that’s already very bright for Iowa City, so I’m happy to be a part of it,” he said.

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