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Iowa City Downtown District hoping $15,000 grants help fill vacant storefronts

Published: Apr. 23, 2021 at 7:37 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Empty storefronts are an all-too-familiar sight in downtown Iowa City and many other places. It’s mostly fallout from the pandemic.

" The pandemic definitely had an effect,” said Iowa City Property Owner Vera Gross.

Gross owns a property in downtown Iowa City, where the former Tailgate retail business used to be, as well as two apartments nearby. All three now sit vacant, partly due to the pandemic.

“I lost my apartment tenets because they wanted to get home and feel safer,” said Gross. “Tailgate, which had been here for seven years, I don’t think that the pandemic caused it, but I think it did have an effect.”

Tailgate closed permanently in March, leaving Gross scrambling to find potential new tenants. The Iowa City Downtown District is now offering $15,000 grants. The grants are for people who sign new soft-goods retail leases in the downtown area.

“It offers them additional opportunity to really build [their business] out how they want versus stopping in short because they might be low on cash or they may need a loan. So the grant is a good way to kind of fill a gap that can keep someone from not starting at all,” said Nancy Bird, the Executive Director of the Downtown District.

Of the downtown district’s 116 “Food and Beverage” businesses, about 8% have closed over the past year, and about 10% sold to new owners. The district says the total closure rates for retail and restaurants is about 25%.

“The retail market is a little bit different,” said Bird. “While there’s food delivery apps for restaurants, we don’t have those types of services for independent retailers like Amazon can sometimes provide. So we’re trying to look for ways to support our retail segment.”

For Gross, she’s staying hopeful that this grant will entice a new business to open up in her building.

“I would like it to go as quickly as possible to a good tenant, but I know it’s better to make sure you have somebody that’s really got a plan in mind,” Gross said.

People can visit the Iowa City Downtown District’s website for more information on the grants.

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