Iowa City's Riverfront Crossings District seeing development 'on all corners'

Multiple mixed-use properties, nature-play area in the works

IOWA CITY — Fresh winding trails carve out the shell of Iowa City’s new Riverfront Crossings Park.

The park itself, bounded by Ralston Creek and the Iowa River, will include a nature-play area and provide a green space for many of the mixed-use and residential developments, which are following on its coattails.

The park, which will see much more work this construction season, is the public centerpiece of the city’s up-and-coming Riverfront Crossings District — the neighborhood immediately south of downtown Iowa City, from Burlington Street to Highway 6. The district goes as far west as Orchard Street and a portion stretches just past Webster Street in the east.

City staff and council have been encouraging redevelopment of the area in recent years and landmark features such as the park and Big Grove brewery have set off a domino effect of new private developments in the district that will be opening or be under construction this season.

“I actually started looking at the area five or six years ago,” said Randy Miller, the developer of a mixed-use project called the Crossings.

He added he finally decided to purchase the property when the city demolished its old wastewater treatment plan to build Riverfront Crossings Park.

“I really knew that the city was serious about redeveloping that area and that’s what excited me about it,” he recalled.


After the floods of 2008, the city moved its North Wastewater Treatment Plant away from the river and consolidated it with the south one.

The city received $6 million in state flood mitigation funding, and because of the requirements attached to the money, Iowa City had to create a wetland and restore the banks of Ralston Creek.

The city is seeking bids on Phase III of the park project, which is expected to cost $1.2 million, which Seydell Johnson said the city is hoping will be complete by midsummer. The project includes lighting, restrooms and shelters and signs.

Phase I began last summer, which included wetland creation, trails and grading of the site. Juli Seydell Johnson, director of parks and recreation, said there’s still a bit of work left — including creating a north-side entrance to the park — and added it would last through early summer.

In the spring, crews are expected to begin Phase II, the park’s nature-play area, which includes traditional playground features such as a slide and swings, sand play areas and a rolling hill. Seydell Johnson said she anticipates that to be completed by the end of April, although she doesn’t believe the parking area will be ready by then.

“I think it’s going to be a really unique and neat space for families,” Seydell Johnson said. “Our park master plan says that people want their kids to be able to play in nature, to be able to touch the water, to actually feel like they’re having a real natural experience outside.”

The city received a number of large grants to help in the construction of the park in addition to the flood funding. Riverfront Crossings Park earned a $157,300 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant from the National Park Service as well as a $50,000 play-space grant from the National Recreation and Park Association and the Walt Disney Co.

“The whole funding for this entire project includes quite a bit of state and federal funding because of being a flood site, so the larger projects have had even more grants than that,” Seydell Johnson said.



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Riverfront Crossings Park is in the shadow of one of the first major developments in the district. The mixed-use Crossings is planned to be eight total buildings with between 300 and 350 units and about 25,000 square feet of commercial space.

The first building, already under construction at 1301 Gilbert St., will include 54 studio apartments. Miller said his project is aimed at everyone from graduate students and young professionals through retirees.

Work on the next building, 1201, should begin construction in October, Miller said. He hopes the entire project will be completed by 2022 and should be worth around $50 million.

“We’re trying to create a neighborhood deal with Riverfront Crossings and so it would be complimentary businesses for our residents because we (will) have such a high population of residential tenants,” Miller said.

Miller said he has yet to determine the rent of his units. His project did receive a financial support pledge of $1,000 from the city last January for up to 312 units of affordable housing.

A financial pledge from a local entity is the first step in applying for a state Workforce Housing Tax Credit. If Iowa Economic Development Authority approves a credit, it requires that each new unit costs less than $200,000 with the aim of keeping rents low.

The Iowa City Council has showed support for affordable housing in the Riverfront Crossings District, going as far as passing an inclusionary housing requirement in July 2016. Developers building in the district now are required to provide affordable housing in 10 percent of the units being developed for 10 years or pay a fee of up to $80,000 per unit.

Geoff Fruin, Iowa City’s city manager, said a number of other residential projects are scattered throughout the district.


“The one that dominates the skyline is the Rise project,” Fruin said, adding that it’ll be finished sometime this year. “That includes the Hyatt Place Hotel, commercial-owned retail as well as residents, primarily geared toward the student market.”

A project called Hieronymus Square, which includes two seven-story structures at the intersection of Clinton and Burlington streets, also is in the works. The almost $41 million project is planned to house retail, office, residential and extended-stay hotel space, according to city documents.

The city council voted in September to provide tax increment financing, or TIF, to the project developers. They’ll receive 100 percent of the TIF revenue for 15 years, not exceed $8 million, according to the resolution.

The Hilton Garden, at 328 S Clinton St., also received TIF support up to $8.8 million from the city, according to the council resolution.

The Riverfront Crossings District has a few mostly non-residential projects underway or completed as well. Fruin said the local VA Hospital is renovating the city’s old post office — near the Johnson County Court House and the Hilton Garden — for an outpatient facility.

“We’re really experiencing development on all corners of the district,” Fruin said. “It doesn’t look like things will be slowing down next year. It’s going to be a good continued high-volume of redevelopment.”

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