Government

Iowa City eyes historic listing for its downtown

Designation would open tax credits, preserve buildings

The historic MidWestOne Bank stands on Clinton Street in Iowa City. The city is assessing whether to apply to have its downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places. after completing a historic building survey of structures in the downtown area. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The historic MidWestOne Bank stands on Clinton Street in Iowa City. The city is assessing whether to apply to have its downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places. after completing a historic building survey of structures in the downtown area. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Iowa City’s downtown is likely eligible for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

An architectural history consultant recently updated Iowa City’s 2001 historic buildings survey, with results showing the downtown could register as a historic district.

The update was requested by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission because so much has changed in the downtown since 2001, and members wanted to know if the downtown might still be eligible for the listing.

The consultant, Alexa McDowell, will present the report’s findings at a 5:30 p.m. Monday public meeting in the Senate chambers of Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus.

The study covered nine square blocks and 115 buildings between Iowa Avenue and Gilbert, Burlington and Clinton streets.

Jessica Bristow, the city’s historic preservation planner, said usually at least 60 percent of a district’s buildings have to be considered historic to be considered for the national register.

Iowa City Council members on Tuesday will determine during a work session whether to pursue a local historic district and whether to apply for the national register.

Bristow said any designation would involve plenty of public meetings and maybe different boundaries.

Bristow said being on the register opens up state and federal tax credits for rehabilitation work.

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The designation also can stabilize property values because it encourages investment by building owners.

“Ours is our own unique area,” she said, noting the proximity of the downtown and the University of Iowa campus. “I think we have a good stock of historic buildings.”

Nancy Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District, said the Monday meeting will be helpful in understanding what the opportunities might be for building and business owners.

The oldest building in the study area is Franklin Printing, 115 S. Dubuque St., which was built in 1856. Bristow said it’s fairly intact and still representative of what an Iowa City building looked like on the eve of the Civil War.

Eight downtown buildings already are on the national register, including the Englert Theatre and the Iowa State Bank & Trust building, previously the Johnson County Savings Bank.

“When you’re preserving your historic buildings, you are preserving what makes your community unique from all other communities,” Bristow said. “By preserving these buildings, we are preserving them not only to educate current and future generations of what the history of our town was but also no one’s going to visit a city that looks just like every other city.”

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

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