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$56M project to add more than 100 apartments, create new home for Riverside Theatre in downtown Iowa City

Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 10:29 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Construction is starting soon on a $56 million redevelopment project in Iowa City’s downtown Pedestrian Mall, according to city officials.

As part of the development agreement, the city will award more than $12 million in tax increment financing rebates over 15 years to Tailwind Group, a real estate developer based in Mankato, Minnesota.

“It’s a multipart project with a lot of community benefit,” Wendy Ford, Iowa City’s economic development coordinator, said.

The project will redevelop five buildings in the 100 block of East College Street, along the Ped Mall, and all buildings will be designated as historic landmarks as part of the development agreement. Right now, one of the buildings, the College Block at 125-127 E. College St., already has that designation.

“One of the things Iowa City is most known for is its genuine authenticity, and any time one of our old buildings is taken down or changed significantly, it compromises that,” Ford said.

Behind the existing buildings, a new, 11-story structure will be built to house 102 market-rate apartments.

Instead of including affordable housing units in the building — a requirement for housing projects in Iowa City applying for TIF — the developer will pay the city around $1.8 million, which will be used in a future project that includes affordable housing.

The downtown area has the city’s highest demand for housing, according to Ford.

“It also is a good place to increase density because all of the infrastructure for a community is already in place,” Ford said. “You don’t have to build roads to it. There’s a rec center. There’s shopping.”

Beneath the apartments, the larger spaces that used to house Martinis and The Union Bar will be split up, creating space for more retailers with more affordable rent.

The third floor of the Crescent Building, at 117-121 E. College St., will become the new home of Riverside Theatre, which moved out of its former space on N. Gilbert St. and has been offering virtual performances during the pandemic. The move will put Riverside Theatre within a few blocks of other local arts venues, including The Englert Theatre and FilmScene.

“Now Riverside’s going to be in the heart of the greatest small city for the arts, and that’s pretty exciting,” Adam Knight, Riverside’s producing artistic director, said.

Knight said the new space will increase seating from Riverside’s old venue and allow for more flexibility in how it sets up seating for shows. Riverside will also be able to add more programming of different varieties to its schedule, including musical performances and readings.

The developer is looking to have apartments ready for move-in by August 2022 and businesses set up before that, according to Ford. Knight said Riverside Theatre could be in its new home by next February, depending on construction.

“For Riverside, for our audiences, for our artists, we’re thrilled. It’s been a bright spot in a very tough year,” Knight said.

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