Iowa City asked to help fund downtown businesses

Software developer, art house cinema owner seeking support for new ventures

Gregg Hennigan
Published: February 6 2014 | 11:32 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:16 am in
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The city of Iowa City is being asked to contribute money to help a business relocate downtown and to give a boost to another already there.

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee will meet Monday to consider separate requests for financial assistance from software developer MetaCommunications and from FilmScene, a nonprofit organization that runs a small art-house cinema.

The city has already put nearly $3 million combined toward the two buildings that are part of the requests.

MetaCommunications is asking for $58,000 from Iowa City to go toward the $300,000 cost of finishing work on three floors of office space at the new Park@201 building, which is nearing completion on the Pedestrian Mall.

The company also wants the city to provide 33 parking permits for 10 years. Steve Long, the city’s community development coordinator, wrote in a memo to the Economic Development Committee that if MetaCommunications hires the equivalent of 20 full-time employees over the next three years, the city would cover the full $31,680 annual value of the permits for five years. The benefit would decrease 20 percent a year after that, he wrote.

MetaCommunications also is considering moving to Coralville and has an offer for financial assistance there, according to Long.

MetaCommunications’ Senior Vice President Dan Cilek said the company is not playing one community against the other, but the downtown Iowa City location is more expensive than the one in Coralville, which he declined to identify.

“We definitely need the financial assistance," he said.

Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said his town is not involved in any discussions with the company so it would be a private developer making an offer.

Robert Long, MetaCommunications’ president and CEO, said being in downtown Iowa City would help attract interns from the University of Iowa and would offer an eye-catching location for its young workforce.

He said being a software developer is a creative field, “so we’re looking for kind of a creative space.”

MetaCommunications develops project management software and collaboration tools for marketing and creative departments. It employs 33 people at its headquarters at 1210 S. Gilbert St. and also has offices in Chicago and Russia, according to Iowa City.

Robert Long said the 20 new positions would be high-paying ones.

“Our business is growing very rapidly,” he said.

FilmScene opened a 70-seat cinema last fall in part of a building at 118 E. College St. on the Pedestrian Mall.

It is asking for $35,000 from the city next fiscal year and $25,000 and $15,000 the two years after that, respectively.

FilmScene is projecting a net loss of $179,000 the next three years before it starts to turn a profit, according to a memo from Wendy Ford, Iowa City’s economic development coordinator.

The City Council approved $2.5 million in 2012 for the  construction of the 14-story Park@201 in a decision criticized by some residents.  It gave $250,000 for the redevelopment of the 118 E. College St. building in 2011.

Both buildings are owned by developer Marc Moen.

City staffers are recommending both new funding requests be approved.

Steve Long said the addition of 53 well-paid jobs downtown would have "a positive impact on the entire area." On FilmScene, Ford said there is a demonstrated need for a downtown cinema and supporting it meets the city's strategic planning goals.

FilmScene plans to eventually move to a high-rise building Moen wants to build on the eastern edge of downtown.

The Economic Development Committee is made up of three of the seven City Council members and makes recommendations to the full council, which has the final say.

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