116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — About two years ago, three women had a vision for revitalizing businesses and supporting local entrepreneurs in Iowa City’s South District.
Marlen Mendoza said meeting Angie Jordan and Tasha Lard “was a moment of synchronicity.” She said they had similar goals:
“We all wanted to economically support our communities, and we wanted to all strengthen our communities,” Mendoza said. “ … What united us was how do we empower people economically, give them that autonomy for them to say, ‘This is what I want to pursue.’”
The women went on to lead a successful effort to bring a business revitalization tool to the city’s south side, which went into effect at the start of this month.
The Iowa City Council in Jan. gave final approval to creating a self-imposed taxing district in the city’s south side. The money collected from the levy — which started July 1 — will be used to revitalize the Pepperwood Plaza area south of Highway 6 between Broadway and Keokuk streets.
Map of South District SSMID
The South District SSMID would cover properties south of Highway 6 in the Pepperwood Plaza.
The board representing the self-supported municipal improvement district, or SSMID, is focusing on hiring an executive director and continuing to raise awareness of what this tool could mean for business retention and new opportunities.
“The goal of the SSMID is to make the South District a destination for people to come and spend their time and funds,” said Elinor Levin, a South District resident and member of the board.
Continuing the work
After the approval from the council this year, the work to get the SSMID setup continued, including signing the articles of incorporation. Jordan, Lard and Mendoza signed it into existence.
“The three of us who spearheaded it were the three that actually brought it into existence on paper legally, which is just really amazing,” Jordan said. “Three women of color had a vision, came together, cranked it out and now it exists.“
The board of directors — of which Lard is the president — started holding meetings. The board includes property owners, business owners and South District residents.
In the district, commercial, industrial and non-residential property owners volunteer for a property tax to be collected and invested back into the area. Such districts have been established in downtown Iowa City, downtown Cedar Rapids and Czech Village and the New Bohemia areas in Cedar Rapids.
The South District SSMID will generate about $104,000 annually, with a levy of $5 per $1,000 assessed taxable value. The levy will last five years unless renewed. The money will be used in three main ways: supporting marketing and business retention, enhancing the appearance of the district and hiring a director.
Hiring executive director
The board’s search committee is creating a description of the executive director position and preparing to post it, Levin said. Levin said the plan is to hire someone with an October start date, which aligns with the first disbursement of funds.
“We're really just trying to, at this point, put everything in place so that we can hit the ground running in October when we hire the executive director and really prepare to make use of those funds,” Levin said.
Jordan said at the first board meeting she recused herself from the rest of the proceedings because she intends to apply for the job.
Speaking as a South District resident, Jordan said it will be important for the executive director to know is what is going on in the community and have established connections.
But among the primary things the director will need to bring is passion for the project, Levin said. She said there will be a priority on hiring someone who knows the area, but the committee is not excluding recommending someone from outside Iowa City.
“We would love to see applicants who are Iowa City residents and particularly people who have lived in or worked in or who have loved the South District,” Levin said.
Impact of Diversity Market
The Diversity Market’s second season kicked off earlier this summer in Pepperwood Plaza. The number of vendors has doubled compared with the first season and there is also entertainment, activities for children and information on community resources.
Jordan said having another Diversity Market season that was bigger and better than the previous one is an opportunity to showcase to what can be possible once the SSMID takes shape.
“This season is not under the SSMID. This still is a grassroots season,” Jordan said. “If these markets are linked directly to our SSMID, imagine what else we can do.”
‘Momentum is changing’
The South District SSMID and the second Diversity Market signal that the “momentum is changing,” Mendoza said. She said members of the Latino community she works with have hope when they see vendors selling their type of food and launching their own businesses.
Among Mendoza’s goals to build off the SSMID is to create something long-term for Latino business owners that offers stable resources and support. To her, that vision is creating a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“We'll see what (the SSMID) grows into, but I'm very confident that whatever it is, it's going to be a great thing for the people in the South District and for minority business owners,” Mendoza said.
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