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Iowa City unveils RAGBRAI theme as 'Book it to Iowa City'

Events to be similar to Downtown Block party, concert planned for Clinton Street

IOWA CITY — Riders on the final night of this year’s cross-Iowa bicycle ride will experience a downtown party despite construction on the Pedestrian Mall.

Thousands of cyclists are expected to stay overnight July 27 in Iowa City, for the first time since 1976, during the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. On Tuesday, local organizers unveiled the theme of the visit — “Book it to Iowa City” — and some entertainment details being planned.

The visitors can expect blocked-off streets downtown, open alcohol containers for adults and a feel similar to last year’s first-ever Downtown Block Party, which drove about 30,000 people to the Ped Mall, said Nancy Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District.

The main stage for a concert will be on Clinton Street facing south, next to the Pentacrest.

“It’ll be great for community and riders to come downtown, stroll with drinks, eat local food and enjoy the entertainment,” Bird said. “It’ll be an authentic Iowa City event that we hope encourages our visitors to come back again and again.”

Specifics like camping site locations, routes through the city and bands are yet to be announced. But the riders will come in and out of town on Sand Road, said Geoff Fruin, Iowa City manager.

Organizers said there will be less emphasis on features like beer gardens with the hope that visitors will go to local businesses instead. The city will rely more on sponsorships and T-shirt sales for revenue, Fruin said.

Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said during Coralville’s 2015 RAGBRAI stop, more than 15,000 visitors spent in excess of $1.2 million in the community.

“We anticipate a similar impact on July 27,” Schamberger said.

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This years’s RAGBRAI begins June 22 in Onawa, with overnight stops in Denison, Jefferson, Ames, Newton, Sigourney and Iowa City before ending July 28 in Davenport.

The downtown Iowa City event will coincide with two major construction projects this summer — the Gateway Project on Dubuque Street and Ped Mall work. Fruin said the final year of Dubuque Street construction, which is a major artery into downtown Iowa City, may present some challenges but the city will make sure any cyclist who camp in City Park will have a safe way to get downtown.

Crews also will be working to replace underground utilities and update the streetscape of the north/south block of the Ped Mall, a major attraction to downtown.

Fruin said the city has worked with the contractor to ensure the area looks as neatly as possible and construction is tucked away during the RAGBRAI stop.

Fruin said he doesn’t expect it impede the downtown activities.

“If we waited until construction stopped around here to put in a (RAGBRAI) bid, it’d probably be another 42 years before we even have the conversation,” Fruin said. “Especially when the downtown businesses community is going to be a little bit stressed with the Ped Mall project, let’s bring in a special event if we have the opportunity to and let’s showcase that we’re a city of progress.

Schamberger said organizers discussed how best to represent Iowa City with this year’s theme. They landed on depicting Herky riding a bicycle, the iconic Old Capitol and the University of Iowa’s reputation for a writing and literature culture in the logo.

“I hope that people are very proud of our community and its university, town/gown partnership,” Schamberger said. “I hope that ... they walk away learning something maybe a little new. Maybe they’ve never heard of someone named Kurt Vonnegut or Flannery O’Connor. Maybe they’ll get a chance to see Dan Gable walking around downtown Iowa City and that’ll be a special moment for them.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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