About the Organization
Downtown Iowa City has had an active business association since the turn of the 19th Century after the founding of Iowa City as the original state capitol in 1839. After more than a century of growth, the business association rebranded in 2012 as the Iowa City Downtown District by a successful petition to property owners to generate tax revenue through a Self Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) to enhance Downtown. The ICDD is a 501(c) (6)nonprofit organization representing property owners and stakeholders in the Downtown and Northside Neighborhoods of Iowa City charged with overseeing the reinvestment of these funds as they advance a mission to steward the area.
The ICDD provides a leadership directive that advocates for the District mission and serves as a mechanism to more efficiently implement District-wide marketing, programs, events, and projects that support vitality for the benefit of all the businesses within it, the University of Iowa, community members, and the region at large. Since its inception, the Downtown District continues to forge an exciting and deliberate path forward towards cultural vibrancy, resiliency, and sustainability.
ICDD Members and Service Area
The Iowa City Downtown District serves the Downtown and Northside neighborhoods (SSMID aerial map) and is closely aligned with the University of Iowa. The membership of the ICDD is comprised of all the roughly 150 property owners, businesses, and organizations that are located within these neighborhoods and the University. Most members contribute to the ICDD through the SSMID levy or through a direct contribution.
Our mission is to champion the Iowa City Downtown District as a progressive, healthy, and culturally vibrant urban center of the region.
- Enhance Downtown Iowa City’s image as the region’s premier urban destination to eat, shop, live, play, stay, and enjoy.
- Ensure the Downtown District is inviting, green, clean, and safe for all.
- Increase the Downtown District’s economic competitiveness both locally and within the global marketplace.
- Encourage cultural vibrancy and local innovation through inclusive cultural, educational, and entrepreneurial programs that increase the number of people that visit the Downtown District.
- Partner with other organizations and individuals to evolve and sustain success.
- Give back to the community through our endeavors to ensure positive impacts to the local economy.
President: Naftaly Stramer- Oasis Falafel
President-Elect: Michelle Galvin- Velvet Coat
Treasurer: Kent Jehle – MidwestOne Bank
Secretary: Susan Craig – Iowa City Public Library
Past President: Mark Ginsberg – MC Ginsberg
Ex-Officio, Non-Voting Members
Wendy Ford – City of Iowa City
Kim Casko – Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce
Kate Moreland – Iowa City Area Development Group
Josh Schamberger – Iowa City Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau
Lisa Barnes – Summer of the Arts
Ben Nelson – UI Student Government
Nancy Bird – Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director
George Etre – Takanami, Formosa, El Patron
Wesley Ward – High ground cafe
Bill Nusser – Hands Jewelers
Anne Armitage – Moss
David Kieft – University of Iowa
Jason Deppe – Saloon
Katie Roche – The Englert
Nick Lindsley – Neumann Monson Architects
Crissy Canganelli – Shelter House
Joni Schrup – Discerning Eye
Ritu Jain – Textiles
Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek – Hayek Moreland Smith & Bergus
Executive Director: Nancy Bird
Director of Operations: Betsy Potter
Special Projects: Nate Kaeding
Nightime Mayor: Angela Winnike
Director of Public Art: Thomas Agran
Special Events Assistant: Christopher Hunter
The Downtown District has identified several long-term programs and initiatives that reflect the evolving nature of the Downtown District, the innovative spirit of our community, and the many varied opportunities for people to connect with each other and us. Each initiative provides a portal for community involvement and ultimately, ownership. The following service areas align with the Downtown District goals and help us serve as a clearinghouse for ideas that foster innovation, creativity, and cultural vibrancy, such as:
The Downtown District advocates for policy and regulatory change, initiatives and funding that will support the mission, and encourages collaboration with a unified voice. It is the primary strength of the organization and why the ICDD invests heavily in Board and staff development. The ICDD has successfully advocated for policy and regulatory changes that have improved the business climate and civic discourse related to improving the business climate and critical social change. The City’s “First-Hour Free” in the parking garages, safety and support for homeless, allowance of pets on the Pedestrian Mall, participation in new streetscape investments, and the development of new sign and design standards are a few examples of the ICDD’s impact.
Tenant Mix and Property Enhancements
Because vacancy rates are extremely low Downtown, utilizing each space for its utmost potential becomes critical. The Iowa City Downtown District offers an incentive program called the “Property Evaluation Program” to evaluate older properties in the District and provide owners with practical information needed to help inform decisions regarding renovations or redevelopment. The goal of the program is to help incent private investments in targeted areas to bring underutilized space back on the market and build a stronger streetscape environment. This program is in partnership with the City of Iowa City’s “Building Change” incentive program and other design initiatives intended to improve the public realm and attractiveness of the Downtown and Northside.
In 2017, the ICDD is introducing the CoSign project a collaboration among the American Sign Museum, The Iowa City Downtown District, the City of Iowa City, presenting sponsor MidWestOne Bank and the greater Iowa City community to design and install a critical mass of new business signage in the downtown district to increase economic activity in the community. The signage will be created by a unique partnership of teams consisting of a small business owner, a visual artist and a professional sign fabricator, all coordinated through the leadership and expertise of the American Sign Museum and ICDD.
Economic “gardening” and tenant recruitment is another feature of the ICDD’s work. In partnership with the City of Iowa City, the Iowa City Area Development Group, and the University of Iowa, the ICDD is implementing a retail strategy and merchandise mix for Downtown and inviting quality business opportunities Downtown.
The timing is right to focus on retail and local tech and office start-ups due to the rising popularity of urban settings like Downtown Iowa City that have a particular eclectic historic and modern vibe. Young adults want to live and work here; mature folks are returning to live Downtown for the first time in their lives; and companies are choosing dense locations over the suburbs to appeal to the next generation of workers and to be in places brimming with the kinds of companies and professionals with whom they do business.
Marketing and Events
The Downtown District plans and implements marketing campaigns and special events throughout the year to support cultural vibrancy and to attract people Downtown. Campaigns are based around topics such as the ease of parking or depth and breadth of available merchandise, or simply remind the community that there is no other place like Downtown Iowa City – and that they should be HERE. In addition, our website and social media presence is second only to the University of Iowa in the Creative Corridor region.
Events are the new marketing for vibrant neighborhoods. Our three primary ticketed ICDD events supported by our staff include:
In addition to these, the ICDD produces promotional events throughout the year and during the holiday season that drive traffic to local businesses and provide entertainment for the community.
We closely collaborate with other organizations producing Downtown events, as well such as the University of Iowa, Mission Creek, Film Scene, the Iowa City Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Summer of the Arts.
Clean, Green, Wired, and Safe
The fundamentals of a great downtown include measures that ensure the area is clean and safe and our operations are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. The ICDD operations primarily enhance the City of Iowa City’s public maintenance plan and infrastructure. Our primary initiatives include power washing sidewalks, financial support of the Iowa City Police Department’s Downtown Community Policy Officer, establishing free public WI-FI, and coordination around City maintenance and private-sector plantings.
Beautification and Activation
The ICDD supports beautification of the Downtown through varied temporary art initiatives, public pianos, and the University of Iowa Community Credit Union (UICCU) Benchmarks program.
Installation of decorative lighting continues to be important to ICDD members. The Northside Neighborhood lights were installed in 2014 through a collaborative effort with the ICDD, Riverfront Products, the Press-Citizen, and the City of Iowa City. Improving safety and ambiance through lighting the Sheraton walkway and Ped Mall are other examples of ICDD investments.
Downtown Gift Card
The ICDD established a “closed-system” gift card that could be spent in any participating restaurant or store in 2013, bringing over $100,000 (as of 2016) in sales to Downtown and Northside businesses since its inception. The gift card, which can also be used for parking garages and meters, is contracted through a 3rd party system (Store Financials) and can be purchased at locations Downtown and on the website. The ICDD’s investment in this contract is a strict service to members – the ICDD receives no funding from sales and works with stores to ensure employee training. The program’s sales trends have grown 50% annually, indicating the importance of online sales of goods and services to University parents, students, and community members.
Downtown District History
The Downtown District is the economic and cultural engine of the Iowa City community. It is home to a wide variety of independent, locally-owned boutiques, shops, and some of the very best in dining and entertainment, and is a place where University and local business innovations merge. The Downtown’s unique and distinguishing features include:
- Its locational adjacency to the University of Iowa’s central landmark campus, the “Pentacrest,” and connection with faculty and campus life.
- Its historic building stock juxtaposed against contemporary architecture reflecting the authenticity of a Downtown that has evolved over the past 175 years.
- Its headquarters for the U.S. City of Literature, one of 20 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) in the world. This designation was granted to Iowa City due to the heritage around the UI Writer’s Workshop and the City’s deep literary culture.
- Its central “Ped Mall,” one of the few remaining vibrant pedestrian malls in the nation that serves as the living room of the community with over 35 sidewalk patios.
- Its walkable and bikeable urban grid, as envisioned by then Commissioner Chauncey Swan when laying out the old State Capitol along the Iowa River in 1839.
- Its function as the community’s central “Downtown” for the Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty areas with retail, small grocers, restaurants, residential, nightlife, and multiple cultural and civic amenities.
Situated a few blocks north from the Ped Mall in the Downtown neighborhood, a statue of famed local historian Irving Weber anchors a walkway that stretches north through UI campus to the District’s second neighborhood – the Northside Marketplace. The Northside holds its own rich history, especially when it comes to politics and beer. The landmark “writer’s diner,” Hamburg Inn #2, is where Presidents and political hopefuls come to caucus and find the Midwesterner’s interest and over the years, the Northside pubs have seated many world-renowned authors. The neighborhood was also once home to a brewer’s guild and historic beer caves remain in tunnels under many of the churches, restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and specialty retail today.