Updated at 4:30 p.m.: Target has confirmed it is negotiating to open a store in downtown Iowa City.
IOWA CITY — Target is in discussions to open a small-format store on East Washington Street in downtown Iowa City, City Manager Geoff Fruin and a Target spokeswoman said Thursday.
Target is negotiating a lease for a space at 115 E. Washington St., which would bring a 24,000-square-foot, small-format store to the downtown. The spokeswoman could not confirm when the store would open.
Fruin said he is “hopeful” the lease will be signed relatively quickly, and in one of his conversations with Target a couple weeks ago retail officials indicated it would be within a few weeks.
“They are having active discussions, but I just don’t know if the lease is signed yet,” Fruin said.
Though the Target spokeswoman would not comment on a lease, she said in an email to The Gazette that, “We’re excited to bring an easy, convenient shopping experience to additional guests in the community with this new Target store. ... As we get closer to opening the store, we’ll have more specific details to share — including how the shopping experience will be tailored to serve local guests and the grand opening date.”
Target opened 10 small-format stores, also known as urban Targets, on or near college campuses in 2018, and have nearly 100 such stores across the country as of June 2019.
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The small-format stores are about one-third the size of a standard Target, taking up anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 square feet.
The property, 119-123 E. Washington St. and 111-117 E. Washington St., is owned by Joe Clark and Kevin Monson, who purchased the buildings from MidWestOne Bank in January.
Target has contacted the city and requested parking changes. Iowa City Council on Aug. 20 approved converting four metered parking spaces into a loading zone.
The city will add metered spots on the corner of Dubuque and Washington streets so there will be no net loss in parking, he said.
Target also asked the city questions about signs, which Fruin said is “typical” for a new business coming to town.
The company likely is anticipating many customers walking or biking to the store, Fruin said.
“That’s why Target has identified downtown Iowa City because of the density of housing we have around the site that is walkable to the area,” he said. “If they were going to be dependent on auto-centric customer base, they probably would have looked elsewhere in the community.”
The city had no role in recruiting or incentivizing Target to that particular space and have been in conversations with Target for “a couple of months,” Fruin said.
Fruin said any improvements needed in the space would go through Iowa City’s building department.
A small-format Target would be a “fantastic” addition to downtown Iowa City, Fruin said.
“A general retailer is something the community has sought for downtown for quite some time,” he said. “It would support the entire community, but particularly the residential community that lives in and around downtown.”
Fruin said that while there may be some overlap of stores, a general retailer will have a “multiplying effect,” attracting people downtown who may not otherwise go there.
“We think the overall downtown environment is strong enough to support that competition,” Fruin said.
Several downtown retailers said they were excited about the prospect of Target joining the mix.
“I would love it,” said Terry Dickens, co-owner of Herteen and Stocker Jewelers, in the same block as the proposed Target store. “Targets carry jewelry, but it’s a different price range and quality.”
Kevin Digmann, general manager of the Old Capitol Town Center, said a big name like Target could draw more people to the nearby mall and all the other boutiques, restaurants and stores downtown.
“To have that type of business right downtown and bring more people to downtown would hopefully benefit all the businesses,” he said.
The two-story Washington Street building most recently housed the Brown Bottle, an Italian restaurant that closed in 2014 after 40 years, but it once was a Younker’s department store, Fruin said.
If Target moves to the site, “the building is returning to its roots,” he said.
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In an interview with The Gazette in July, Clark was unable to share any information about prospective tenants, saying that he was confident they would find good tenants for the spaces.
Monson said they were open to any retailers who would be a good fit for downtown Iowa City and have had interest from a number of businesses.
“We think it’s really critical to downtown Iowa City to get a viable tenant into Washington Street,” Monson said. “We think it’s absolutely the best street in town for retail.
“We need to get it back occupied and with the lights on. We’ve been working very hard to get the right tenant to bring life back to that side of the street. Now that the city has redone the street and spent money to improve the infrastructure, it would be nice to get the storefronts open.”
After an updated Downtown Iowa City Retail Strategy released in February revealed that the number of vacancies on East Washington Street was a concern, the Iowa City Downtown District got to work with the property owners to create a recruitment plan for new tenants.
Clark and Monson are working with Neumann Monson Architects to update the exterior of the buildings, which Clark said is “old.”
“We’re giving it a fresher, cleaner look all across the south side of Washington (Street),” Clark said.
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