Renovations set for group of downtown businesses

BY CORY PORTER | AUGUST 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City residents may see some new updates to several local businesses in the coming months.

Coming into its second year, the Building Change program, an economic initiative created by the City of Iowa City, has allocated funding to nine local businesses.

The goal of the program is to renovate a select number of local businesses in the downtown and Northside areas of Iowa City, updating them aesthetically, as well as making them more energy efficient.

These include such things as new or updated facades, energy-efficient windows and doors, and implementing stronger fire safety measures.

Tracy Hightshoe, community development planner for the City of Iowa City, said the driving idea for the program was “to provide financial incentives to the downtown and Northside marketplace.”

The businesses selected this year were Forbidden Planet, Sports Column, Coldstone Creamery, Yotopia Frozen Yogurt, M.C. Ginsberg Property Management, Oasis, Martini’s, Joe’s Place, and Bluebird Diner.

However, the city received 11 applications for this year’s program.

Last year was the first year of the program and some of the businesses selected were Panchero’s, Bo-James, Tailgators, Atlas World Grill, and Quentin’s.

“We got a lot of positive comments on the first rounds,” said Hightshoe.

For this year’s round of renovations, according to the City of Iowa City, the cost of each development would run from $6,500 to $97,000 and will take from a couple weeks to a couple months to finish.

The funding consists of grants from the Community Development Block Grant and loans from University of Iowa Community Credit Union, MidWestOne Bank, and Hills Bank and Trust.

Naftaly Stramer, one of the co-owners of the falafel restaurant Oasis, applied for the program last year, but missed the deadline, he said.

This year, the city approved his request, and he received an $8,000 zero-percent interest loan to install new energy-efficient doors and a window.

Stramer said that the window and doors were holdovers from the previous owner and that, “it was time to replace them.”

Nancy Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District, said the renovations that resulted from last year's Building Change program made a huge impact on the entire area.

"We are fortunate that the city supports reinvestment into downtown properties, especially the older historic buildings,” Bird said. “It has succeeded in leveraging significant private investment that wouldn't have otherwise occurred."

And the support isn’t minor, she said.

After the renovations at Atlas World Grill were completed, Bird said that the difference in the aesthetic was like "night and day."

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