Government

Investors propose 55-acre development along Interstate 80

Part of the plan calls for moving but keeping an Iowa City mobile home park

Velvet Marquez, who attends college in Tuskegee, Alabama, Jesus Arce and their son, Aidan Arce, 16 months, stand on the
Velvet Marquez, who attends college in Tuskegee, Alabama, Jesus Arce and their son, Aidan Arce, 16 months, stand on the porch of Arce’s mother’s mobile home in Forest View Mobile Home Court near the intersection of Dubuque Street and Interstate 80 in Iowa City on Friday, June 3, 2016. Arce and his mother moved to Iowa City from New Orleans in Winter 2015 to escape what they describe as high rent and lack of employment opportunities. Blackbird investments and North Dubuque LLC plan to develop a 55-acre area on Dubuque Street, meaning residents in the mobile home park will have to relocate. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — A mobile home park that marks the entrance to one of Iowa City’s main drags would be moved and incorporated in a mixed-use development spanning 55 acres and reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars to build.

The project, called Forest View at the intersection of Interstate 80 and N. Dubuque Street, could include apartments, condos, townhomes, offices, stores or hotels.

But just what goes there has not yet been decided.

Forest View will be a multiyear project, and all buildings in the early proposal are up for debate, Chris Diebel, a public relations consultant who is a spokesman for the project, said Friday.

Decisions on things like the type of hotels or housing have not been made because plans are “purely conceptual at this point,” he said.

But Diebel did say the development would not have a dense retail space so it would avoid competing with downtown Iowa City merchants.

Also not announced at this point is whether the developers would seek tax breaks or other public financial incentives.

The project is proposed by Blackbird Investments, a Des Moines real estate development firm, and North Dubuque LLC. That corporation is made up of Kevin Monson of Neumann-Monson Architects; Justin Doyle of Blackbird Investments; Jeff Maxwell of Maxwell Construction; and Eddie and Cheri Cole — who own the land that includes the mobile home park.

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Tenants in that park, the Forest View Trailer Court, would have to move to a different portion of the land.

Diebel said the developers plan to pay the cost of the move and offer added amenities like larger lots and soccer and playing fields at no additional cost.

Still, some residents say they have concerns.

Angela Banda, who owns a home in the park, said she and other tenants have not yet been told about many of the plans for the tract.

Residents did receive a letter Thursday explaining benefits of the move and inviting them to a June 11 meeting to present “the plan we will be asking the City of Iowa City to approve.”

Banda said residents are “in the dark” until then.

One of the concerns she has is whether the homes could actually be moved and remain intact. She said many date from the 1960s and 70s.

“There is no way you’re going to be able to move your trailer that’s 40 years old without it crumbling to pieces,” she said. “There is no moving this.”

Her son. Jesus Arce, said that while he had mixed emotions, the promise of new roads to help residents leave during recurrent flooding “would be awesome.”

Geoff Fruin, interim city manager for Iowa City, said the additional roads to provide emergency and flood relief to the area and a relocation plan for the mobile homes are top priorities for the city. He said this was the only development plan the city has seen in years that allowed existing mobile home tenants to remain anywhere on the property.

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Fruin said the next step for the developers will be to speak with the residents, create a comprehensive plan and apply for rezoning.

Blackbird also recently proposed a 29-story tower for downtown Des Moines at the site of the former Younkers department store. According to its website, other company projects include the College & Gilbert mixed-use building in Iowa City, which is being designed; and the One University Place luxury condominium and commercial project in University Heights, which is under construction.

The Forest View development proposal comes as other big projects nearby start, continue or are scheduled.

Iowa City is starting the $59 million Gateway Project that includes elevating Dubuque Street and reconstructing Park Road Bridge over the Iowa River.

Construction on that project could be wrapping up before major work gets underway at Forest View. But if they do run into each other, Fruin said officials would coordinate to avoid issues.

Slightly farther west, on the other side of the Iowa River, Coralville’s Iowa River Landing continues to expand. The tract — three times as large as the envisioned Forest View development — also includes hotel and commercial space and officials are planning to build more hotels and an arena.

And a bit farther west still, the Iowa Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct the interchange of interstates 80 and 380.

That project is set to begin in 2018 and last five years.

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