Iowa City now has a vision for the redevelopment of its downtown and a large area to the south, and it’s grand and ambitious.
The city Monday night unveiled its master plan for the 278-acre area known as Riverfront Crossings and downtown.
It calls for taking an area south of downtown filled with government property, small businesses and light-industrial uses and turning it into a pedestrian-friendly and urban neighborhood with more park space, enhanced streetscapes and new buildings that include housing, retail stores and offices.
It also puts an emphasis on embracing the Iowa River and Ralston Creek.
Jeff Davidson, Iowa City’s director of planning and community development, said the city is trying to provide a broad vision for the area that gives people, particularly private developers, an idea of what it could be.
“Basically, we’re trying to captivate people,” he said.
The open house, which attracted a standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 people at City Hall, did just that for local developer Jesse Allen.
“I think it’s an unbelievable opportunity for urban development in Iowa City,” he said. “I think the river is our biggest asset.”
He added that he and his partners are already seeking people who want to sell land in the district for projects that could include housing, hotels or mixed-use buildings.
There were a number of developers and real estate agents at the open house.
Riverfront Crossings is bordered by Burlington Street on the north, Highway 6 on the south, Gilbert Street on the east and Riverside Drive on the west.
The city has been studying its possible redevelopment for three years, and for the past year it’s worked with consulting firm HDR Inc. on the master plan.
HDR’s Doug Bisson walked through that plan Monday night. It lays out several goals, and the first one mentioned was that the focus is to remain on downtown. In that vein, new retail opportunities for Riverfront Crossings would be held in check so as to not detract from downtown.
“It’s always been that focal point, so we don’t want to do anything that would diminish that,” Bisson said.
Other goals include encouraging pedestrian-oriented, mixed use development; creating a resilient riverfront park system; enhancing Ralston Creek so that it becomes an asset that can spur development and recreation, such as by adding a bicycle trail along it; and promoting sustainable design practices.
The plan breaks up the area into several smaller neighborhoods — downtown and south downtown are two examples — and Bisson walked through several concepts for redevelopment in each.
Those include preserving historic downtown buildings while encouraging infill development for new projects. Another was establishing a promenade to connect downtown with a proposed park on the south side of the district. One more was creating a plaza on Clinton Street near where the post office and county courthouse are now. A large number of new buildings also are in the plan, although Bisson emphasized it would be up to property owners to decide what to do.
These projects are just ideas. While the city would be actively involved in developing things like green space and streetscapes, much of the work would take private investment. City staffers acknowledge the redevelopment process will take decades.
The city is seeking public feedback on the master plan. The next step is taking it to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and, ultimately, the City Council, and having it adopted as part of the city’s comprehensive plan.