Coralville City Council Votes to Move Forward on Old Town Project
By Sam Lane, Reporter
CORALVILLE, Iowa - The Coralville City Council Tuesday night voted to move forward on a proposal for the development of a flood-damaged area known as Old Town.
City officials will now begin negotiating with Iowa City-based Watts Development Team and Hiawatha-based Fusion Architects Inc. for a $40 million project that will combine housing, commercial space and public entities. The council voted 3-0 to begin the negotiations, with members Bill Hoeft and Mitch Gross absent.
The 20-acre space — which lies south of Fifth Street, between First Avenue and Biscuit Creek in Coralville — was under several feet of water after the Floods of 2008. Most of the houses, apartments and city buildings in the area have since been demolished, and future flood mitigation projects will protect the areas from water up to one foot above the 2008 record level.
“This is one of the important areas of our town,” Mayor Jim Fausett said. “We lost lot of business due to flooding. It’s very important that we get this built back up.”
The project is set to include a plaza surrounded by three mid-rise buildings with a total of 123 condominiums for sale or lease. The public plaza could include an amphitheater, a play area, a farmers market and an ice rink. City officials will now begin the process of deciding for certain what will go in the space and how much they’re willing to pay.
“All those ideas are worthy of discussion,” council member John Lundell said, adding that the project will have benefits for more than just the residents who will live in the area.
Old Town would also include seven turn-of-the-century-style row houses with about 40 town houses; future additions could include a “game-day” condominium building aimed at Hawkeye football fans in town for games. Gary Watts of the Watts Development Team said the idea for those units was “market-driven” and would be geared toward University of Iowa alumni who do not want to rent a hotel room when they return to the area for a game.
In late May, Coralville received proposals for the project from the Watts/Fusion team as well as a second proposal from Houser Enterprises/Baxter Construction. The Houser/Baxter proposal called for two large buildings on the site, which would include 180 for-rent residential units around a community plaza. With that plan, which was considered student-oriented, Houser asked for a 10-year tax increment financing agreement, a three-year tax abatement and a donation of the land.
But council members did not favor the student approach or the TIF request.
Watts, who said he was excited about the project, said crews could begin work on a berm and dirt elevation in the area as early as the fall. Construction on the space is set to start in the spring and should be completed within five years.
Despite what appears to be widespread approval of the project, not everyone in Coralville is completely on board. Resident Brenda Scott told the council she was concerned about students attending the nearby Coralville Central Elementary School.
“My main concern was with the game-day units and whether the area will be cleaned up for the students to walk through,” she said. “I don’t want it to turn into a party area that close to school.”
Lundell, though, said there will be “vigorous enforcement” of the maintenance of the area.
The council’s vote starts the process of developing a formal agreement with Watts/Fusion. Members will have to vote on a finalized contract, likely in a couple of months.
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