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6 questions for Iowa City's new 'nighttime mayor'

'I think this is everybody's downtown,' Joe Reilly says

Iowa City Downtown District “nighttime mayor” Joe Reilly emcees events June 22 during the Downtown Block Party in Iowa City. “I think one of my main goals is to dispel this kind of stigma about when people can be downtown, at a certain time, at a certain age,” he said in an interview about his new role. “I think this is everybody’s downtown.” (David Harmantas/Freelance)
Iowa City Downtown District “nighttime mayor” Joe Reilly emcees events June 22 during the Downtown Block Party in Iowa City. “I think one of my main goals is to dispel this kind of stigma about when people can be downtown, at a certain time, at a certain age,” he said in an interview about his new role. “I think this is everybody’s downtown.” (David Harmantas/Freelance)

IOWA CITY — It has been a busy first few weeks on the job for new Iowa City Downtown District “nighttime mayor” Joe Reilly.

Since being announced as the district’s second-ever nighttime mayor and the first person to hold that job full-time, Reilly said he spent a lot of time meeting people and preparing to head up the district’s Nightlife, Arts and Culture Council. Earlier this month, Reilly helped put on the district’s Downtown Block Party.

The role was created to better engage with merchants open after traditional business hours and was inspired by similar roles in Europe, especially Amsterdam. The district first hired a nighttime mayor in April 2017. Angela Winnike served in the part-time role until December 2018 when she resigned to move to the West Coast.

Here’s what Reilly has to say about his first few weeks on the job:

Q: What drew you to this position?

A: My very first job was working at Marco’s Grilled Cheese downtown. So I really got to see the vibrancy and the uniqueness we have here. ... I think that when I thought about it, I could have a hand in shaping, developing that vibrancy. That was right up my alley.

Q: What are your goals for this position?

A: I think one of my main goals is to dispel this kind of stigma about when people can be downtown, at a certain time, at a certain age. I think this is everybody’s downtown. The best way to state it is we want inclusivity. We’re not saying everybody needs to hang out in one place at one time, but our block party is a great example of that. It’s everybody’s downtown.

Q: What traits do you possess that make you a successful nighttime mayor?

A: I come from a theater background. I am very familiar with meeting new people, being thrown into new situations, riding those anxious nerves when you’re meeting somebody new for the first time. But I’m also affable, approachable. I like being put into those situations where I’m growing and learning from new people that I come across. Also, there’s an aspect from my previous job where I used to work at The Eastern Iowa Airport and I was the customer service manager. I would be the “I want to speak to your manager” guy. And I was managing expectations and maybe not meeting people on their best day. That’s something I can definitely bring to when I’m meeting business owners or even people who are frequenting these establishments.

Q: Previously this was a part-time position, now it’s full time. What has changed?

A: This is a hybrid collaboration with Think Iowa City. That’s our convention (and) visitors bureau. Part of what I’m going to be tasked to do is helping them, when they’re booking conventions, sports events, book meetings, (and) group bookings in our downtown hotels. So when we have planners for those events coming to visit Iowa City and scope it out and see if that’s a right fit for them, I’m the sales floor showman and I’m going to take them around, take them on a tour and show them what’s good and even develop programming for them for after the meeting, after 5, give them suggestions, feed them an itinerary to what they might enjoy.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in this role?

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A: I think if I could be several years down the road and look back and see where Iowa City has come from. I think we’re already on a great trajectory right now. There’s a lot of redevelopment downtown. We added 30 new businesses downtown last year. If I could just look back and know that I was helpful to those businesses, I was a champion for those citizens and people who enjoy Iowa City, that’s all I need. That’s where I want to be.

Q: What excites you the most about downtown Iowa City?

A: I would have to say the people. ... You can always just plop down a whole bunch of different businesses and things to eat, but it’s the people that really make this city run and that’s what’s so great and what excites me.

l Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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