Iowa City unveils riverfront park idea south of downtown

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A riverside park with condos overlooking it and retail and office space, all in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

That was the vision laid out Thursday night by the city of Iowa City and its consultants for a portion of the Riverfront Crossings District south of downtown Iowa City.

“I think it’s terrific and I think capitalizing on the water is a great idea,” developer Marc Moen said.

He spoke after the plans were unveiled during an open house at the Iowa City Public Library attended by more than 140 people.

The city wants to redevelop Riverfront Crossings into a dense, walkable neighborhood. It currently is home mostly to apartments, government buildings and small businesses.

The district is roughly bordered by Burlington Street to the north, Highway 6 to the south, Gilbert Street to the east, and the Iowa River to the west.

Thursday night’s presentation focused on the southwest corner of the district. The city has spent the past several months studying that smaller area in detail with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and consultants HDR Inc. and SRA International Inc. Iowa City received one of just five EPA grants nationally for the work.

The area studied is 77 acres, 26 of which would be turned into a park. Dominating the site now is one of the city’s wastewater treatment plants, but that will be decommissioned in a few years as part of the city’s flood-mitigation efforts following the 2008 flood.

There would be an amphitheater, trails, boardwalk and wetlands, under the plan discussed Thursday. About 1 million square feet of residential space and perhaps 223,000 square feet of ground floor office and retail space would be included, although farther back from the river and out of the floodplain. There would be more than 2,000 parking spaces.

Green roofs, rain gardens, wetlands and other efforts would help combat flooding and water runoff.

Doug Bisson of HDR also mentioned the possibility of light- and high-speed rail in the area. But the excitement felt locally three months ago over federal funding for an Iowa City-to-Chicago Amtrak line was dampened this week with Gov. Terry Branstad saying he was opposed to spending the needed state dollars at this time.

Linda Fisher of Coralville said that created some questions with the Riverfront Crossings plan, which she said she was impressed with.

“Our dreams and our realities have a good distance between them,” she said.

The development of the area, in whatever form it takes, will occur over many years in steps, with much of it undertaken by the private sector.

Already, there is some movement on the public and private fronts.

Planning is underway for a new multi-use parking facility from the city, University of Iowa music facilities and a mixed-use highrise on the northern edge of Riverfront Crossings. The city expects those to spur further development.

“We already have people interested in building,” said Jeff Davidson, Iowa City’s planning and community development director.

Bob Miklo, the city’s senior plan, said moving forward, the city will look at how the concepts studied in the smaller area can be applied to the rest of the district, will address zoning in the area and will explore economic development opportunities and other sources for paying for the work.

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