New liaison says Iowa City offers more 'besides its reputation'

For 'nighttime mayor,' perception is not reality

Angela Winnike, Iowa City Downtown District’s Nighttime Mayor, walks through the Pedestrian Mall in downtown Iowa City on June 8, 2017. Winnike was hired into the position in April and is meant to serve as a liaison for nighttime businesses in the district. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
Angela Winnike, Iowa City Downtown District’s Nighttime Mayor, walks through the Pedestrian Mall in downtown Iowa City on June 8, 2017. Winnike was hired into the position in April and is meant to serve as a liaison for nighttime businesses in the district. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — On any given evening, downtown is bustling with activity. People of all kinds flock to the Pedestrian Mall for late-night food, drinks and entertainment. And at the center of it is Nighttime Mayor Angela Winnike.

Winnike, a 34-year-old Iowa City native who works as the chief of retail operations at Java House and Heirloom by day, was hired into the Downtown District’s new Nighttime Mayor position in April to serve late-night business owners such as bars and restaurants by being the “go-to person” for questions, problems and feedback during her Thursday through Sunday night shift, roughly 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., which she says is no problem considering she “doesn’t sleep much.”

“Normally I sleep only four or five hours a night,” she said. “I’m just one of those people that needs a single sleep cycle.”

The nighttime mayor position, although new to Iowa City, is not a new concept. The idea originated in Europe and since has spread to larger cities across the United States, such as San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Austin.

The district’s executive director, Nancy Bird, said it’s “still fairly early” to concretely define all of Winnike’s duties, but some early goals include encouraging organizations to host more events and activities downtown, drawing more visitors downtown in general and developing connections between businesses, university officials and the Iowa City Police Department to help communicate rules and regulations.

“It’s important for businesses to have someone to go to,” Winnike said, “to bridge the gap between daytime decision-makers and night life managers.”

Winnike said she’ll also offer nighttime tours for new students and parents coming to Iowa City for school and will create events that are “clean, safe and welcoming to people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.”

One such event is the district’s first ever evening block party, which will be an open-container event Saturday evening that encompasses all of downtown Iowa City.

“The big difference between this and other events is we’re leveraging all of our businesses throughout the event, not bringing in outside vendors,” said Betsy Potter, director of operations for the Downtown District. “This is an event downtown businesses are excited to capitalize on.”

Winnike, who previously served on the district’s board of directors, said she originally didn’t intend to apply for the nighttime mayor position. But as the deadline drew nearer, she worried someone else might not do as good of a job.

“It’s a position I’m really passionate about. I wanted it to be done right,” she said. “I guess that’s the control freak in me. I really want to make this a better community for everyone.”

Winnike hopes to show what the area has to offer “besides its reputation” and clear up the “very serious disconnect between perception and reality” of downtown.

“There’s a perception that downtown is only for students, but so many of our businesses would love to have the business of other community members,” she said. “My job is to highlight all of the positive things happening in our community and I think our downtown is amazing and vibrant. If you walk downtown on any given night, you’ll see that. ...

It’s not just about going to bars. It’s about showcasing the amazing spaces and events we have downtown.”

“Angela has a very multicultural viewpoint. She’s just really inviting and engaging and a really good listener,” Bird said. “So far she has demonstrated to be a really good fit with building relationships with restaurant and bar venues as well as retailers open at those times. I think she’s done a great job with it.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

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