By Maria Kuiper
The Pedestrian Mall will receive a series of renovations in the next few months.
On Tuesday night, the Iowa City City Council approved a proposal for Ped Mall improvements, which would include replacing the pavement, and upgrading utilities, installing a permanent stage, in addition to various lighting, furnishings, and landscaping improvements.
The council set the estimated cost at $6.8 million, to be funded by a general obligation bond. Construction will begin April 30.
The first phase of the project will be Dubuque Street, and the second will be College Street, following this year’s graduation ceremonies. Scott Sovers, the city’s senior civil engineer, said Phase 1 should be completed in October.
Karen Kubby, one of the owners of Beadology, 220 E. Washington St., who coped with the construction last year because of the Washington Streetscape Project, said starting construction in April is crucial because of unpredicted events. Also, construction needs to finish by the holidays, she said.
One of the main issues of having construction during the summer is the conflicts with RAGBRAI and the Summer Block Party. City Manager Geoff Fruin said the special summer events and construction could have positive correlation.
“Having visitors go to businesses that will be affected by construction will be good,” he said. “These businesses would normally be negatively affected by construction.”
Another concern is the cost. The $6.8 million is only the base bid, and the council will decide at a later date about additional alternate bids, which are shade structure, a canopy, and salvaging bricks.
Councilor Susan Mims said on Tuesday the cost of the project will pay off.
“It’s a lot of money, but the Ped Mall is the front room of our community,” she said. “It’s important we invest in it. There are not many ped malls that are successful in the country, but this one is.”
Mims also noted the importance of the Ped Mall to the community.
“When parents and students come to Iowa City, they don’t go to Towncrest or Mormon Trek, they go to the Ped Mall,” she said.
Councilor Rockne Cole agreed with her.
“This is going to be a beautiful project, with beautiful infrastructure and innovative ideas,” he said. “The Ped Mall is the central heartbeat of the community.”
Along with businesses, restaurants, arts and culture events, the area has recently been the center for social movements.
“The culture of protests and marches in the Ped Mall are important to highlight as well,” Councilor Kingsley Botchway said. “There should be a safe avenue to do those things.”
Councilor John Thomas agreed that the project has “great enhancements,” but they come with a price.
“I put forth that people who support this to consider contributing financially to the project,” Thomas said. “The Ped Mall is a symbolic place, and I hope people would acknowledge this project has elements that are betterments beyond basic infrastructure.”
As a result of the disruption of construction, a resolution was also passed to waive fees for sidewalk cafés located on the Ped Mall, including the Java House, and Chop House.
[Editor’s note (2/21/18): In an earlier version of the story, it was said fees would be waived on Washington St. as well as the Ped Mall. Washington St. will not have waived fees, & this has been updated in the story. The DI regrets this error.]