Tiffin city, businesses prepare for more, as growth shows no sign of slowing down

'We get busy and we stay busy'

James and Deb Heitshusen of Williamsburg buy ice cream at Jon's Ice Cream Store and Restaurant in Tiffin on Friday, July
James and Deb Heitshusen of Williamsburg buy ice cream at Jon’s Ice Cream Store and Restaurant in Tiffin on Friday, July 19, 2019. Locals like the small-town feel of the ice cream shop, which sits on the town’s main thoroughfare. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

There’s a give-and-take to the growth Tiffin is experiencing.

Though more people are moving into the city, some time-consuming grill items are likely to move off the menu at Jon’s Ice Cream Store and Restaurant, a 39-year-old local business — open between March and November — on West Marengo Road.

“People expect corporate speed at a small town quality,” said Victoria Mufson, the store’s general manager. “People want that face-to-face service that makes you feel like you’re coming to the place that you’re always going to. You don’t want to feel like you’re just some number in their system.”

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Owner John Schneider founded Jon’s Ice Cream in June 1980 coming out of the bar business, from a desire to remain self-employed. At the time, he said, Tiffin’s population hovered around 300, and much of his store’s clientele were rural.

Now, with the city on track to top 4,000 residents by next year, Schneider said his eatery has started getting walk-in traffic and a number of returning customers whom he can recognize through their orders, not unlike a barista at a local coffee shop.

“It’s changed — the business used to be up and down,” he said. “You couldn’t predict it. You’d be busy, then you wouldn’t be busy ... but today, our business has leveled off. We get busy and we stay busy.”

When Tiffin officials learned the city was poised for more of a population boom than originally anticipated, they did not sit on their hands. In 2018, they enlisted the East Central Iowa Council of Governments to update Tiffin’s comprehensive plan, originally adopted in 2014 as a road map for the city’s long-term growth and development through 2030, with new census data and future land-use maps.

New business

“Ten to 15 years ago, when Tiffin was just tiny, they didn’t have any plans,” recalled Chad Sands, the council’s community development director.


“They weren’t really expecting growth, but once Coralville started growing and then North Liberty exploded, Tiffin was just right in that line, and it starts with that metropolitan area (Iowa City) and goes out in a circle. It didn’t necessarily have to do with the fact that Tiffin wasn’t ready, it’s really just the location.”

The revised plan retains an overriding policy statement that resulted in 2014 from Tiffin’s planning committee and 282 households that returned a community survey: “Growth and development should continue within and around Tiffin but not at the detriment of the existing community.”

“Attracting new business” ranked as the most important issue among the Tiffin households surveyed.

In addition, more than 59 percent of respondents agreed the city needed more business development and nearly 58 percent believed officials should be more active bringing in business.

Recommendations included creating a strategic plan with marketing and recruiting goals for business development and fostering a local business community.

Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner, who also is vice president of Solon State Bank in the city, said the financial institution issued approximately 500 commercial loans in 2018 — a number that steadily has increased over the past 10 years.

“The commercial growth obviously lags behind the rest because you’ve got to have rooftops to get the commercial to come to town,” Berner said.

One recent get for Tiffin was Fareway, the city’s first grocery store, which opened a 19,000-square-foot new location, with about 70 full- and part-time employees, on Croell Avenue in late May.


Planning and discussions on a potential Fareway in Tiffin had begun a few years ago, said Emily Toribio, the Booner, Iowa-based chain’s communications manager.

She said various economic factors go into determining where Fareway locations are placed, including city population, projected growth, proximity to other Fareway locations and support from city staff.

“Tiffin definitely checked all those boxes,” Toribio noted. “What really contributed to the overall development specifically in that area was that there’s surrounding development and growth where our store is placed.”

Another retailer, Fleet Farm, is moving forward on a 185,000-square-foot new Tiffin location, a $35 million project, by the Forevergreen Road interchange on Interstate 380, under the retailer’s stated plans to “nearly double its store presence by 2023.”

Another Fleet Farm is in the works in Cedar Rapids, along Highway 100 and Edgewood Road NE.

Now that Tiffin has Fareway and Fleet Farm, headquartered in Appleton, Wis., signed, Berner said he and other officials are in talks with some “heavy hitters,” or national businesses, in the hopes that they will buy lots in town and open up shop.

Though Berner did not offer any specifics, he said, “Six months from now, I think we’ll have some public announcements.”

They saw it coming

The city’s comprehensive plan includes data showing Tiffin grew from 975 residents in 2000, to 1,947 people in 2010 — a 99.7 percent increase — and then to an estimated 3,739 in 2018, a 92 percent jump. Population estimates based on an 150 percent growth rate indicate Tiffin will become home to 4,867 residents by 2020 and 12,168 people by 2030.


Based on those figures, the comprehensive plan advises that Tiffin will need approximately 3,663 new housing units before 2030, up from the city’s approximate 1,627 units as of January 2018.

If they adopt an in-fill strategy, officials could fit much of the projected growth on the approximately 1,300 undeveloped acres within city limits — though the plan acknowledges some constraints on that land, including slopes or wetlands, and notes that annexation likely will be necessary within the life of the plan.

Some housing units already are planned, with single- and multifamily homes through the multiphase Prairie Village development, and apartments and houses as part of the Park Place project.

Sands said continuing to heed feedback from residents, as the city and his council did in crafting the comprehensive plan, will be important for Tiffin as the page turns on its next chapter.

Of the city’s growth, he said, “Most people recognized it was coming, so (a lot of the comments were), How can we plan it so it’s appropriate for the community, it looks good and it doesn’t impact neighbors or anything like that?”

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