IOWA CITY — A 170-unit apartment complex proposed for the downtown Iowa City is drawing praise for its potential to both revitalize and preserve the character of the Pedestrian Mall.
The Tailwind Group, based in Mankato, Minn. is proposing a redevelopment project that would span much of the 100 block of East College Street. The apartment building, which is to be approximately 10.5 stories tall, would be built behind the College Block, the Crescent Building and the Dooley Block, according to a city memo. Those buildings house Martini’s, the Union Bar, Revival, Graze, the former Field House Bar and the former Givanni’s Restaurant.
While the College Block has already been designed a National Historic Landmark, Tailwind will designate all three buildings a Local Historic Landmark, making sure they cannot be demolished. That aspect is a highlight for council members Susan Mims and Rockne Cole, who said the city has few regulatory tools for historic preservation downtown.
“There’s very little protection for a lot of our historic structures,” Cole said. “How do we make sure we get that preservation and allow the growth we need in the community? This really achieves that.”
Mims, Cole and Mayor Jim Throgmorton received a presentation on the development from Tailwind Wednesday during a meeting of the council’s economic development committee, of which the three councilors are members. Mims noted that Tailwind also intends to redo the facades of the existing buildings, divide up the space and put in more retail. She said that will revitalize the space, especially during the day time.
“I think it’s a very exciting proposal,” she said. “It got a very positive response form all three council members. Everybody’s response was very positive.”
Wendy Ford, the city’s economic development coordinator said Tailwind is seeking $9 million in Tax Increment Financing for the $65 million project. However, the height of the building doesn’t fall within the TIF policy’s desired height limits of four to six stories.
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In order to get around that, Tailwind is preparing to offer several “exceptional public benefits,” including the historic designation. Among them is achieving Platinum LEED certification for the new apartment building, the highest possible LEED certification and higher than what the TIF policy requires. Ford said it would likely be the first TIF project in the city to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
“Another sustainability aspect of this that sometimes gets underrated is the most sustainable building is the one that already exists,” Ford said. “We’d be preventing buildings from being demolished and landfilled.”
Ford said Tailwind is also working with an arts group on a space that would be programmable for presentations in the building that houses the Union bar. That space was once a ballroom, Ford said.
“This would restore the third floor to a public gathering space and strengthen downtown’s presence as a cultural center,” Ford wrote in a memo to the committee.
Next steps for the project include conducting a financial gap analysis and review by the National Development Council to determine the appropriate amount of TIF to dedicate to the project, a process that could last until the end of this year or early 2020. The developer also will at some point have to go through the Historic Presevation Committee, Planning and Zoning and the city council in order to rezone the properties as Local Historic Landmarks.
“I’m a huge supporter of it,” Cole said of the project. “I’m thrilled they were able to get this to us. I just think it’s going to be a real great opportunity downtown.”
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