ICDD Targets Incentives to Meet Community-Wide Goals

Store announcements and recent openings reflect big changes to the downtown Iowa City landscape as visitors return to the region. Several new restaurants and retail stores opened up over the summer and many are being built out to ready for openings set for early fall. The Iowa City Downtown District has tracked the turnover in both businesses and properties and has put incentive programs in place to support goals of a healthy merchandise mix.

The following provides a list of additions that have opened or expect to this fall:
retail openings (Champions, The Knit Hole, 223 Baby Company, The Herky Shop, Iowa Book / College Barnes & Noble)
new restaurants (Tiki Tacos, The Webster, Insomnia Cookies, Marco’s Island, Keto Kitchen)
new bowling alley (Spare Me)
new elementary and performing arts high school (Tamarack Discovery School and Iowa Conservatory (ICon)
new cultural venues (Riverside Theatre, The James Theater)
new board game cafe (Fortuna)
new salon (Timothy Gabriel Salon)
expansions (Basic Goods, US Body Contour, Artifacts)
relocations downtown (Daydream Comics, Beadology Iowa)
re-opening (Revival)
new brewery (Reunion – 2022)

The ICDD with sponsorship from MidWestOne supported many of the new businesses with projecting sign grants while providing match grants to existing businesses with upgrades and storefront enhancements. The District also bridged the gap with build-out grants for new retailers located in spaces currently without kitchen hoods to preserve those spaces for that use.

223 Baby Company, opening at 21 S Dubuque Street down the street from Prairie Lights, was one of the recipients of this support. “We have another store in West Branch and were encouraged to look at this space by other women in business downtown Iowa City, knowing that a grant was there for us,” said store owner Macy Krall. “The funds were a motivator for sure, we have other business lines and may have looked the other way if this support wasn’t extended to us.” Krall will cater to new mothers and family members with infants and children while supporting gifts that complement this retail segment, something explicitly called for in the Downtown’s Retail Strategy.

Nancy Bird, Executive Director of the ICDD shared that the retail support is targeted to meet a balance of merchandise for the community as well as balanced opportunities for those trying to enter the retail scene. Pat Einarsen, another grant recipient, is opening a new business at 30 S. Clinton Street in the former American Eagle Tailgate space. Experienced in both retail and manufacturing from Peosta, Iowa, Einarsen’s new “Herky Shop” will spin-off of the previous store’s Hawkeye apparel and will bring elevated opportunities in sportswear. “The support gave us a chance to get it right. Retail isn’t the same as 10-12 months ago let alone 10-12 years. Getting the store curated properly took some additional creativity and time. Getting off to the right start was paramount and the Downtown District’s initiative made me realize they were in it with my side by side. I’m excited,” said Einarsen.

“Champions,” a new sister store to Catherine’s downtown is opening this fall from a long-time downtown business owner, Catherine Champion. “The corridor is growing and it is now a much more competitive environment, so the support from the ICDD is key. Especially after 2020. Downtown Iowa City is the perfect environment for newness. We can’t thank Buzz Salon enough for taking a chance on this space collaboration. Jodi Connolly has a world-class salon and we appreciate her vision for leasing the first floor. Quite frankly, we’re going to crush it. Think TikTok.”

These openings and the flurry of recent business activity have brought downtown vacancy levels down to pre-COVID levels to 3-4% in first-floor space. The ICDD will offer one final Retail Build-Out Grant for the next new first-floor dry goods store opportunity that meets the community needs identified in the ICDD’s Retail Strategy. “We’re really fortunate to be in this situation and it’s important to keep this momentum. That’s why we are inviting the community to help us recruit the next great retailer through our ILoveIC Retail Referral program, which incentivizes the community to help us with the recruiting process through rewards. Queuing up a list of interested prospects will help us keep our retail base dense and interesting,” said Bird. “The mix of independents and cultural venues in downtown Iowa City is what makes us unlike any other college market and these programs help us keep it genuine.”