By Todd Kimm, Amana
When I learned of the possible destruction of the three historic cottages on the 600 block of South Dubuque Street for the building of yet another residential/business complex, I was shocked. It seemed unthinkable that this strip of unique shops so particular to Iowa City could be lost. I’ve always thought of, and experienced, Iowa City as a community that valued and protected its history, culture and singularity.
I attended both undergrad and grad school (Writers’ Workshop) at the University of Iowa. I was an editor at Icon newspaper when it had its offices in the building just south of the cottages.
This section of Dubuque Street has always been one of my favorite places in Iowa City, maybe anywhere. The cottages themselves are priceless, as architectural and historic gems and for the vital, local, independent businesses that inhabit them.
I’d really like to encourage the city to develop a vision (it already recommended preserving the cottages in its Riverfront Crosssings plan) for this unique and historic area, a vision for a small district that includes the cottages, a 115-year-old depot and many cool, locally owned businesses. It’s already known by many as The Old Train Depot District.
This area has great economic development potential, as is — with the help of some careful restoration and marketing. Progressive cities across the country have been doing this for years. It’s what helped turn towns like Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and yes, Des Moines, Iowa, into what they are today: places that attract people, creativity and dollars. In these cities, new development is not only enhanced but anchored by historic, character-filled districts.
Iowa City can embrace this vision, or include it in a larger vision, as it opens itself to more development and investment. Otherwise we’ll end up as soulless and generic as some places that I won’t mention and never visit.
Please ensure this community won’t regret rushing into the destruction of these amazing assets. Believe me, when all of us are gone, this will be one of the things we are remembered for.
Todd Kimm co-founded Little Village and now work at Legion Arts, the artist-run nonprofit that programs the historic C.S.P.S. arts center in Cedar Rapids’ historic New Bo District