Ten ways Iowa City changed in 2017

Construction on the Riverfront Crossing Park is shown July 24, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

Every year brings changes, and 2017 saw the start of construction on a major new public park and progress on a new approach to community living in Iowa City. A new co-working space for entrepreneurs opened on the Ped Mall, and the sale of an important Ped Mall building revealed a strange world of art that had been hidden from public view for decades. Plans for major improvements to the Ped Mall were finalized, as were the plans for new building for the University of Iowa Art Museum.

Every year also brings losses. In September, Kirk Walther, owner of the Record Collector and a central figure in eastern Iowa’s music scene for decades, died. “He was more involved in more aspects of music for a longer time than anybody else will be able to achieve,” Luke Tweedy, owner of Flat Black Studios, wrote in Little Village.

As the year came to close, it was announced that University Camera, the last full-service camera store in Johnson County and a vital part of the Iowa City arts community since the 1970s, was going out of business. 2017 also saw the closing of the iconic pool at the UI Field House.

There were concerns about Iowa City’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature, after the Trump administration announced it was pulling the U.S. out of UNESCO in October. The city’s status didn’t change, although it lost its distinction as the only U.S. City of Literature, when UNESCO conferred City of Literature status on Seattle. But adding a second city didn’t change Iowa City’s preeminent position on the international literary scene — in 2018, Iowa City will host the annual UNESCO conference for its worldwide network of cities of literature.

Iowa City Cohousing held a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 13, 2016 for its Prairie Hills development. — photo via Iowa City Cohousing

Feb. 10: Cohousing community breaking new ground in Iowa City

A new housing community, Prairie Hill, hopes to bring the concept of cohousing to the Iowa City area — encouraging a greener, more neighborly living space.

The development, many years in the making, broke ground in November on land in southwest Iowa City. Construction will start this spring on 36 energy-efficient homes surrounded by green space, and a common house complete with a shared kitchen and eating area.

Image via the City of Iowa City

June 7: Riverfront Crossings Park gets funding for first phase of construction

The Iowa City Council approved funding amounting to nearly $3 million for the first phase of the Riverfront Crossings Park during its Tuesday, June 6 meeting.

“Riverfront Crossings Park is set to be the new gathering place for Iowa City residents,” Parks and Recreation Department director Juli Seydell Johnson said in an email. “The park transforms an industrial area into a vibrant community space allowing access to the Iowa River and exploration of bike trails, Ralston Creek and wetlands.”

The new MERGE space in downtown Iowa City. — image by Jason Smith

June 27: With opening of MERGE, development group continues working to foster local entrepreneurs

The Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD) has come a long way since its inception over 30 years ago. The organization celebrated its latest expansion with the opening of a new co-working space, MERGE, on the Iowa City Ped Mall earlier this month.

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The organization got its start in 1984 when a Saturn auto plant, which had considered an Iowa City location, decided against moving to the area, meaning local residents missed out on those new jobs.

Sketch for the Pedestrian Mall Improvements Project, view from Clinton St. entrance. — image courtesy of the City of Iowa City

July 31: Public meeting on Ped Mall improvement plan reveals some new features and some fixes for old problems

Some eye-catching new features for the Ped Mall were highlighted at a public meeting about Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall Improvement Program in July. Plans call for an adjustable canopy for the stage area at the Sheraton, and a canopy to provide shade in Black Hawk Mini Park. Strings of lights will be hung overhead at both the Clinton and Linn Street entrances to create lighted gateways, and new lights will add color to the jets of water at the Weather Dance Fountain.

Graffiti in the third floor of the 117 and 119 E College Street building. Monday, July 31, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Aug. 1: Painted devils, the death clown and an excellent view of the Ped Mall: The hidden world of the Swisher building’s top floor

Rumors said the top floor of the three-story Iowa City Ped Mall building that houses the Revival clothing store and Union Bar has walls covered with strange and fantastic graffiti. The rumors were right.

Little Village was granted access to the long-vacant third floor of the Swisher building. The building was scheduled to be auctioned later that week. It was the first time it has been sold since 1923.

Rendering of the new museum building. — image via the University of Iowa Museum of Art

Aug. 3: New building for the University of Iowa Museum of Art approved

The plan for a new building to house the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) has been given final approval by the Iowa Board of Regents.

“We’re very excited, and there’s also a deep sense of relief,” UIMA Interim Director Jim Leach told Little Village.

The museum’s original building was damaged in the 2008 flood. Since then, the exhibition space available for its approximately 14,000 piece collection has been confined to two rooms in the Iowa Memorial Union on campus and some shared space at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.

Kirk Walther — Photo by Adam Tetzloff

Oct. 3: The record collector: Remembering Kirk Walther

As any small business owner will tell you, an owner’s DNA is woven into the fabric of their business. It is an extension of them, a reflection of their ideas, ideals, goals, vision and integrity, and, conversely, the business becomes a part of the owner. I write this about Kirk Walther, owner of Record Collector, a man I consider to be the best boss I ever had, but an even better friend. I cannot tell anything about him without talking about the Record Collector, so that is where I will start.

Photo courtesy of the Iowa City Book Festival

Nov. 2: Seattle joins Iowa City as a UNESCO City of Literature

Iowa City is no longer the only UNESCO City of Literature in the United States. On Oct. 31, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization designated Seattle a City of Literature. Seattle was one of 64 cities added to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which recognizes distinction in seven fields: crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts and music.

The University of Iowa Field House pool. Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

Nov. 4: Bidding the iconic University of Iowa Field House pool a fond farewell

An iconic landmark built in 1927 is set to disappear when the swimming pool in the University of Iowa Field House will be updated and converted to a fitness center, according to a budget approved in June by the Iowa Board of Regents Property and Facilities Committee. Projected to run at least $10 million, the update will be funded by gifts and earnings to recreational services and income on university investments.

Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

Dec. 21: University Camera is closing, after more than four decades in Iowa City

University Camera, a downtown Iowa City fixture and the only full-service camera shop in Johnson County, will be closing in the spring.

“I’ve given my landlord a final termination date of no later than the first of May 2018,” Roger Christian, the store’s owner, told Little Village. “And I’m really hoping to be out of here no later than the first part of April.”

The closure of University Camera will be a major loss for the visual arts community in Iowa City, which has counted on it for photographic supplies, equipment repairs and expert advice since the 1970s. Even people who just shoot photos for fun may notice the difference, especially if they use film. The store is only place in Iowa City that still develops film on site.