IOWA CITY — The freshly painted walls in the lobby of the Graduate Iowa City hotel provided a stark contrast to the fenced-wrapped dusty Pedestrian Mall that business leaders overlooked as they gave the annual State of the Downtown address Wednesday evening.
The Iowa City Downtown District and other leaders shared recent highlights of their 2018 efforts to support downtown businesses and looked ahead to upcoming projects and events during the next year. Dozens of attendees also had the chance to hear Jon Sewell of CHOMP, a local third-party food delivery company, speak about collectives and tour the Graduate, a new boutique hotel in the old Sheraton building.
District staff have been working on Ped Mall construction mitigation efforts, such as wayfinding signage for pedestrians and alleyway art installations, to support business affected by the two-year project to improve underground utilities and the streetscape look. Additionally, the district is looking forward to events like the Downtown Block Party this month and the RAGBRAI overnight stop in July.
“We have this major construction for our infrastructure ... but right alongside of that are these artists doing these spectacular murals in really unexpected places,” said Michelle Galvin, president elect of the district’s board of directors. “I just think we should be proud of that and I’m proud to work to continue that energy.”
Nancy Bird, executive director of the district, said looking ahead to the next fiscal year, the district will continue to support affected Pedestrian Mall businesses and public art and business signage projects.
Members also may look into improving the organization by achieving a 501c3 tax status to more easily receive funding, rather than a 501c6, as well as even reach out to businesses and properties owners south of Burlington Street to see if it would make sense to expand the self-taxing district.
“We’re doing an organizational review,” Bird said, adding that the district will begin looking into those potential changes. “We’re kind of blowing through our strategic plan, so its time to reevaluate it.”
GRADUATE HOTEL SOFT OPENING
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Tim Franzen, President of AJ Capital Partners and Graduate Hotels, said the hotel is going through its soft opening, with a grand opening coming later this month or early July.
The company looks for university towns that have more to offer than just the school, Franzen said. The walls of the lobby of Graduate Iowa City are covered in painted quotations, and bookcases are stacked behind the front desk, thanks to the city’s UNESCO City of Literature status.
“We want to tell the stories of the history, the culture, the people who live in the community, who went to the school at the University of Iowa through our interior design,” Franzen said. “We want to end up to become the community living room.”
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