Alley Beautification Project underway


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What started off as a pilot program to consolidate garbage collection and alley recycling services is now set to grow into a larger reconstruction initiative for Iowa City’s growing downtown.

A nonprofit organization established in 2012 has been seeking community and business input for the Alley Beautification Project. The project will include not only the cleaning of various downtown alleyways but will also add lighting and expand the areas for public use.

A price has yet to be put on the project because of a still yet-to-be-determined design plan, said Bill Nusser, the president of the Downtown District.

“There are three designs we are currently looking into, very inexpensive, a middle range, and very expensive,” he said. “If money were an object, what we would be doing realistically is the Downtown District would look for funding, but we don’t know what the city would put into [the project.]”

The final design will not be revealed until after the sharing committee meets two more times, Nusser said. The next meeting, set for sometime in December, will serve as a precursor to the initial project construction in 2014.

A pilot initiative targeting the heavily used downtown alleys was conducted in the spring and served as a test for a larger program. The Iowa/Clinton/Washington/Dubuque alley and the Dubuque/Linn alley were eyed to consolidate garbage collection and recycling services beginning in those two areas.

Iowa’s fifth-largest city is not the first at attempting to curb trash and miscellaneous debris.
Dubuque currently maintains a similar project that started in 2007. With seven alleyways currently reconstructed, Dubuque city officials now want to reconstruct 73 more alleys.

“Historically, cities have not done a great job cleaning alleyways,” said Jon Dienst, a civil engineer for Dubuque. “Most Upper-Midwest cities usually leave it to the business owners, but we decided with recent flooding, by replacing and improving the infrastructure, it will help lift a level of ownership and pride for businesses to take care of things better.”

Des Moines also considered starting an alley beautification project, however the city’s greater land expanse made it difficult to narrow down which alleys to reconstruct.

“I think it’s hard to say, are we talking about neighborhoods, or downtown, or more residential areas,” said Frank Dunn-Young, a Des Moines city planner. “I think in more residential areas, there could be a line in pedestrian connection through the alleyways.”

One local business owner said cleaning up the alleyways will help downtown grow and better infuse a different downtown culture.

“I think the big thing is consolidating their waste to clean up the alleyways because they are not the most beautiful to look at,” said George Etre, the owner of Takanami and Formosa. “I think the key is to start using unusable parts of the downtown as the downtown area grows.”

Despite a still preliminary period, some downtown businesses hope to see a variety of changes, which include adding lighting fixtures as a safety measure.

“I don’t feel fearful for my safety very often, but I can definitely see how some people would feel that way walking down through the alleyway,” said Joe Van Zant, manager of XIE. “I do feel uncomfortable at times as well, so I think the safety thing is a great idea.”

Once construction begins on the alleyways, businesses are not worried about it interfering with their business or delivery schedules.

“We have deliveries through [the alley], but I assume it wouldn’t take too long to do this project,” Van Zant said. “It would kind of disrupt our flow a little bit, but we’re adaptable so we would figure it out.”

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