At its Wednesday meeting, the Iowa City Council Economic Development Committee (EDC) will consider a proposed nine-story apartment building that Tailwind Group wants to construct behind the three Ped Mall buildings that stand between the Graduate and the Wells Fargo building.
Tailwind Group is a property management company based in Mankato, Minnesota, best known locally as the owner of The Quarters at Iowa City, a student housing complex. It owns all three Ped Mall buildings. Tailwind purchased what is being called “the Crescent Block,” which houses Union Bar and Revival, from the Ruth V. Swisher Revocable Trust in 2017 for $2.9 million.
“The project would ensure the historic preservation of all of the buildings facing College Street and the bulk of each of those buildings,” Iowa City Economic Development Coordinator Wendy Ford wrote in a summation of the Tailwind proposal. “Behind the historic buildings, and separated by a walkway, the developer would build a 9-story, 170-unit apartment building (with studios, one and 2 BR units totaling 186 beds) with 2 levels of parking accessible from the alley.”
Tailwind estimates the total cost of the project as $65 million. The company is asking the city for $9 million in tax increment financing (TIF).
Iowa City uses TIF — which grants a developer a rebate of, or exemption from, a percentage of property taxes for a set period of time — as an economic development tool in the Downtown and Riverfront Crossings area, but the Tailwind project does not meet one of the criteria set by the city for such financing.
The city’s TIF policy states “except under extraordinary circumstances, applications seeking TIF should ensure that their projects fall within the Desired Height ranges shown on the Downtown and Riverfront Crossing Master Plan’s building heights diagram.” The desired height range is four to six stories, meaning the Tailwind project is planned to be three stories above the upper limit.
In its proposal, Tailwind states the project should be granted an exemption from the height limit, because it will provide “exceptional public benefits.”
According to Ford’s summation of Tailwind’s proposal, the “developer will designate each of the three [historic Ped Mall] buildings a Local Historic Landmark, thereby ensuring it against demolition.”
The company would also restore some of the building facades to their early 20th century appearance.
The developer is also working with a local arts group to offer new space for them. They plan to offer programmable space, a shop, office, sales counter and restrooms on the third floor of the Crescent Building above what is now the Union Bar. This use would restore the third floor to a public gathering space (it was once a ballroom), and strengthen downtown’s presence as a cultural center.
Along with the exceptional public benefits described above, the project would reactivate the street with tenants who will have active businesses during the day and into the evening. This section of East College Street is relatively quiet during the day due to the years-long vacancy of a big portion of the Dooley Block (the former Field House) and the night-time-only activity associated with the Union Bar. Among other tenants, the developer plans to retain a liquor license and add a full restaurant to the mix.
The company also promised the new building would exceed the city’s energy efficiency requirements in TIF projects.
In addition to the $9 million TIF, Tailwind is seeking “a reduction in required parking [providing 54 spaces instead of the 80 spaces that would normally be required in a 170-unit building] either through the Board of Adjustment because of the unique circumstances surrounding the historic preservation of the buildings or via fee-in-lieu.”
City staff has not yet performed an analysis of the Tailwind proposal, and the Wednesday meeting will be the first time the three members of the EDC — District B Councilmember Susan Mims, at-large Councilmember Rockne Cole and Mayor Jim Throgmorton — have considered the project. Company representatives are supposed to attend the meeting to answer questions from the committee. If the EDC eventually recommends approval of the TIF, the matter would then be taken up by the full city council.
The EDC meets in the city council chamber at Iowa City Hall at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.