New Pioneer to Stay Put in Downtown Iowa City, May Add Third Store

By Hayley Bruce, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa City's New Pioneer Co-op may not be moving anytime soon, but that doesn't mean the board has given up on expansion.

Though New Pioneer Co-op Board President Ramji Balakrishnan said Co-op members were disappointed with the City Council's decision to choose a development on College and Gilbert Streets that does not include their store earlier this month, he said the board is now considering opening a third location.

"Obviously we were quite disappointed that the council chose not to include New Pi as part of it's plans, so that is a setback for us," Balakrishnan said. "Having said that, the current plans are to stay in our current location at Van Buren Street for as long as it's feasible."

Now, Balakrishnan says, the Co-op is actively exploring opening a third store somewhere else — possibly in North Liberty or Cedar Rapids. Any decision to open a new location will depend on the results of a market analysis study and a vote from the Co-ops members, he said.

Though the Co-op has wanted to re-locate for some time, board members announced their interest in moving to the College and Gilbert Street area last year amid concerns over the grocery store's location in a flood plain, and lack of space for expansion. Officials with the Co-op have also indicated that building a bigger store would allow them to have more parking and seating, offer more products, improve safety, create space for classrooms and meeting areas and expand their opportunity to run a more energy-efficient building.

And even though Balakrishnan said they plan to keep the Iowa City location open as long as it's feasible, he said matters out of the Co-ops control could limit the store's long-term viability.

"The other thing is just economics. We can not fit any more product in the store because it's so cramped at this point in time, which is one reason why we wanted to expand and relocate," Balakrishnan said. "As costs keep going up the revenue is going to stay on this track and, you know, no business is going to stay forever in those kinds of conditions."

Geoff Fruin, assistant to Iowa City Manager Tom Markus, said Markus reached out to the Co-op's board via email a few days after the City Council's Jan. 8 vote and offered to work with them to find another location for them to move to within Iowa City.

"We're trying to find the time to sit down and have that discussion," Fruin said. "I wouldn't say there are specific parcels of land, we would need to sit down and understand what their market analysis tells them where they need to be, so if they can narrow down that geographic region, we can be creative and try to find a way to make that happen."

Balakrishnan said the board would still consider moving the store somewhere within City, and would also take up an opportunity to speak with any nearby city interested in developing a third location. He said the third store would likely be between a five and $10 million investment.

"We will keep our options open at this point in time," he said. "If the council wants to come to us with a specific proposal they can and we will listen to them carefully and evaluate what they have to say."
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