By Allison Meyer
Iowa City business owners, leaders, and residents gathered on the evening of June 13 to reflect on and celebrate the accomplishments of the Iowa City Downtown District over the course of the past year and to look ahead to what the next year may hold. The annual State of Downtown acknowledges prominent community partners and updates the public on the district’s happenings.
“It takes a village,” said Michelle Galvin, the president-elect of the Downtown District.
The venue for the event, the Graduate Hotel, served as a reminder of the development that has occurred downtown over the past year. Graduate Hotels exist in university towns and are customized to exemplify the city that they are located in. For example, the walls of the lobby in the Iowa City location are covered with literary quotes recognizing the town’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature.
Tim Franzen, the president of Graduate Hotels, said he was excited to open a hotel in Iowa City, noting the company wants the hotel to “add to the community and become an asset to it by reflecting on the history of the city and telling the stories of the culture through its design.”
One event highlighted at the meeting was the massive success of last year’s Downtown Block Party, which drew more than 30,000 people. The event took place two months after the Downtown District hired Angela Winnike as the city’s first nighttime mayor. She took the position in April 2017 in order to better address the needs of the wide range of businesses that operate downtown.
In addition to adding a nighttime mayor, the district also hired a public-arts director. According to the 2017-18 Mission Report distributed at the meeting, the position was added to “encourage public art throughout the downtown, bring feet to the street, help local businesses thrive, and ultimately make Iowa City a more enjoyable place to live and visit.”
What’s next for Downtown Iowa City?
Just outside the windows of the Graduate Hotel was what Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird called a “historic face lift of the Pedestrian Mall.” The district hopes to use the open spaces on the Ped Mall to draw more visitors and help businesses that may have suffered because of the renovation.
“We want there to be more opportunities for people who want to be here to be here,” Bird said.
The district plans to create opportunities by continuing outreach to businesses that are interested in moving downtown and “connecting property renovations with retail and office recruitment.”
Other initiatives in store for the coming year are the return of the CoSign program, which allows local artists to design downtown business signs, and the Iowa City Mural Project, which is set to create at least six new murals and expand to other types of public-art projects as well.
“I am proud to work for the district to both preserve and nurture the energy of the city,” Galvin said. “It doesn’t just happen, it comes with planning, infrastructure, and meetings, and I’m really just proud to be a part of it.”