Big changes this summer for Iowa City Downtown District

Group expands board, boundaries, renews funding for 10 years

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IOWA CITY — It has been a summer of change for the Iowa City Downtown District.

In July, the organization moved into a new office space at 103 E. College St., Suite 200, just above Raygun clothing store.

That same month marked the beginning of a new term for members of the organization’s board of directors, which has been expanded from 19 members to 25.

In addition, the Downtown District recently expanded its boundaries and saw the renewal of its primary funding mechanism — a tax paid by property owners inside the district — for 10 years.

Until June 30, 2021, the tax on property owners cannot exceed $2 per $1,000 in taxable value. After that, district officials have the option to ask for the maximum rate to increase 50 cents per $1,000 in taxable value.

“When we first started, there was a lot of just relationship building we had to do,” said Nancy Bird, executive director of the organization, which was founded in 2012 to provide leadership and undertake programs to promote and sustain downtown Iowa City as a business, entertainment, social and cultural center. “Now that we have those relationships really developed and there’s some trust built, the biggest shift is looking outward.”

Bird said evidence of support for the Downtown District can be found by looking at the number of property owners who endorsed the funding renewal — 55 percent, well above the 25 percent minimum required.

Bird added that 76 percent of the total assessed value of buildings in the district is represented by those who endorsed the renewal.

“That’s why it was huge when we collected signatures above and beyond what was needed ... because it demonstrates a support way beyond the mandate,” she said.

In addition to the tax assessment, funding for the organization comes from the University of Iowa, city of Iowa City, event sponsors and private donors. In fiscal year 2014-2015, the organization took in $657,037, according to tax records. It paid out $170,014 in salaries and benefits during the same year.

When the organization was founded, the tax assessment — set up through a Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District — was designed to sunset after four years, Bird said.

With the extension now in place, the assessment is expected to generate about $331,000 in fiscal year 2016-2017. That money is typically used to pay for things like marketing and clean and safe initiatives, Bird said.

The organization’s board of directors guides the decision-making process in terms of how money is spent. And now, there are more voices at the table.

Bird said once the renewal was passed, staff turned their attention to updating the bylaws to allow for additional board members. She said the board was expanded because of input from those in the district who said they wanted to be more involved.

“It just really adds a lot more communication and support of our endeavors,” Bird said.

About half the original 19-member board stepped down at the four-year mark to allow for new board members who represented other areas of the community, like the public library, non-profits and even the University of Iowa student government.

“Bringing those different perspectives on board can help us be a strong organization,” Bird said.

Bird said many of the new directors are women because the district wanted to achieve a better gender balance on the board, which is now about evenly split.

One of the new directors is Katie Roche, development director for the Englert Theatre, who was brought on to represent the arts in downtown Iowa City.

Roche said she wants to make the downtown, where she has worked for about two decades, a hub for culture and art. However, she said the directors have another responsibility as well — to be an advocate for the community.

“We represent our organizations, in my case the arts, but also I think we wear a special hat on a daily basis knowing that we’re trying to be the eyes and ears for the downtown,” Roche said.

That downtown area the board members watch over is a bit bigger now.

For the most part, the new additions to the district are between South Van Buren and South Gilbert streets from Iowa Avenue south to East Burlington Street and on both sides of East Burlington Street from South Van Buren west to South Capitol streets. Small portions of the Northside Marketplace have been added as well. These areas include the University of Iowa’s new school of music, some residences, a new hotel and the Iowa City Farmers Market, Bird said.

She said the next step for the organization is to write a strategic plan, which she expects to be done in the coming months. She said the plan should map out how to further improve sustainability, the appearance of alley ways, retail recruitment and economic development.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Here are the members of the Iowa City Downtown District Board of Directors:

President: Mark Ginsberg, MC Ginsberg

President-Elect: Naftaly Stramer, Oasis Falafel

Treasurer: Kent Jehle, MidWestOne Bank

Secretary: Michelle Galvin, The Velvet Coat

Ritu Jain, Textiles

David Kieft, University of Iowa business manager

Bill Nusser, Hands Jewlwery

Sara Wallace-Belle, HD Short & Sons Properties

John Burchert: Chop House and Eden Lounge

Crissy Canganelli, Shelter House

Susan Craig, Iowa City Public Library

Nick Lindsley, Neumann Monson Architects

Katie Roche, The Englert Theatre

Linda Schreiber, Master Gardener

Angela Winnike, Java House

Joni Schrup. Discerning Eye

George Etre, Takanami, Formosa and Givanni’s

Ex officio

Nancy Bird, Iowa City Downtown District executive director

Steve Boyd, Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce

Wendy Ford, City of Iowa City

Kate Moreland, Iowa City Area Development Group

Josh Schamberger, Iowa City Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Lisa Barnes, Summer of the Arts

Mazahir Salih, Center for Workforce Justice

Jacob Simpson, UI Student Government

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