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$54.4 million Ped Mall project gets support from Iowa City economic development committee

A passerby looks in the front window of the Union Bar on the Pedestrian Mall in Iowa City. The bar closed in April and i
A passerby looks in the front window of the Union Bar on the Pedestrian Mall in Iowa City. The bar closed in April and is part of a large block of businesses on the Ped Mall that will be renovated and revitalized in a project the Iowa City Council is now considering. (Gazette file photo)
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IOWA CITY — Developers seeking up to $12.25 million in tax increment financing for a project to preserve and reactivate a block of the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall have gained support from the city council’s economic development committee.

The proposal for the 100 block of East College Street from the Mankato, Minn.-based Tailwind Group now will go to the full Iowa City Council for consideration.

“I think the benefits of this project are well worth our investment,” said Iowa City Council member Susan Mims, a member of the economic development committee.

The project is now three years in the making, with the Tailwind Group first buying a building on East Court Street in 2017. The group now owns all of the buildings from 109 to 127 E. College St., known as the College Block, Crescent Block and Dooley Block.

Iowa City Economic Development Coordinator Wendy Ford said the $54.4 million project has numerous benefits for the community.

First and foremost, the Crescent and Dooley blocks would be renovated and designated as local and historic landmarks, preventing them from being demolished in the future. The College Block was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

“These designations guarantee the buildings will exist in perpetuity,” Ford said.

Once home to two of the largest college bars in the state — The Union Bar and the Fieldhouse — the project would “activate” the 100 block of East College Street by eliminating 50 percent of the commercial space, allowing smaller businesses that would be open during daytime hours.

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Local restaurateur Jim Mondanaro plans to expand his Reunion brewery and restaurant into the former Fieldhouse location, Ford said.

The second and third floors of the former Union Bar will be the new home of Riverside Theatre under the proposed project, Ford said.

“The third-floor state-of-the-art theater facility will evoke of those of larger metropolitan cities, where theaters find homes on upper floors of older buildings filled with character and charm,” Ford wrote in a memo summarizing the project.

Tailwind will build a 102-unit multifamily building south of the existing buildings. The nine-floor complex will be LEED Gold certified.

While the city requires projects receiving tax increment financing to provide 15 percent of the units as affordable housing, Tailwind will pay more than $1.8 million to the city’s affordable housing fund in lieu of providing those affordable housing units.

City council member John Thomas, also a member of the economic development committee, noted the proposed project is complex, something he is sometimes leery of.

In this instance, however, aspects of the project — historic preservation, affordable housing, LEED certification, residential units downtown and a new home for the Riverside Theatre — fell into place to create an appealing development, he said.

“I think this project just makes a lot of sense,” Thomas said.

Mims said the council is cautious and judicious in its granting of TIF funding but that TIF funds make sense for this project.

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“When I look at the benefits of this particular project, they are quite numerous,” she said. “Really, to me, probably the most important thing is the protection of those buildings on the south side of the Ped Mall. That whole ambience would be entirely changed if those buildings were taken down or significantly altered.”

In addition to the agreements with Riverside Theatre and Mondanaro, Tailwind has “strong verbal agreements” with other potential tenants of the vacant spaces on the block, said Brandon Smith, vice president of operations and development.

Smith said he’s confident the commercial spaces within the 100 block of East College Street will be occupied within a year.

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

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