Your Town Now: The Month that was December 2010

Porter Agonistes
The City Council decided to “defer indefinitely” a motion to decide on renewal of The Summit’s liquor license after Police Chief Sam Hargadine submitted a newly expanded chronicle of Porter’s deepening financial troubles. We’re not saying that the writing’s on the bathroom wall for the man who profited so handsomely during the go-go pre-21 days, but things are looking awfully grim. Porter’s racket was based on the same principle as the UI’s: attract young people flush with their parents’ money, the government’s, and whatever dollars they can earn on their own and get them to invest that money here. The university returns that investment in the form of (presumably) educated citizens and a contribution to the sort of fundamental research that leads to life-improving discoveries. Porter’s bars, it’s fair to say, returned the investment in the form of inebriated citizens, variously moistened alleyways and a contribution to the private wealth of a man who didn’t quite know how to handle it. It’s not uncharitable to suspect that cutting him off and calling him a cab is the right thing for everyone involved.

Paying it Forward
The City Council will hold a public hearing on Jan. 10 to discuss proposed grants totalling $1,398,000. The grants are penciled in for the city itself (for parkland acquisition), the Johnson County Crisis Center, the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County and the Visiting Nurse Association of Johnson County.

This represents a portion of $2.7 million that the city has coming from the Aniston Village project, which provides affordable rental housing. The city loaned Aniston Village $2.9 million for construction, $2.7 million of which will be paid back by May; these projects form the first round of funding from the repayment. Originally, the plan had been to use the repayment to attract supplementary state funding for a levee project, but Des Moines rejected Iowa City’s application. As for the balance of the Aniston Village repayment, the council will consider in late winter whether to approve $1,205,000 in housing grants supporting ISIS Investments (which focuses on small families headed by teen parents), Shelter House and the Weatherby Condos.

Off Yr Duffs!
If you noticed a pattern among those Aniston Village-related grant proposals, you might have what it takes to fill an open position on the Housing & Community Development Commission. If not, a handful of city commissions still need your time, thoughts, and energy. Go to for more info on these opportunities.

The city approved the issue of up to $2 million in tax-exempt Midwest Disaster Area (MDA) bonds supporting the development of a new facility in Northgate Corporate Park for Eye Physicians and Surgeons (EPS). EPS is currently located in the Mercy Medical Complex, at 504 E. Jefferson. EPS Properties would get the cash as a loan to be repaid, and the city’s liability for the bond is greatly mitigated under the MDA program. Bondholders make a few bucks in the long run, EPS saves thousands in taxes and Northgate gets a new tenant. Everyone wins, right?

Well, on its face, this is the sort of creative solution that traditionally gets things done in a city. Business wants to move, city has no objections, each party finds a way to do so at minimum mutual expense. But this one makes us think.

MDA bonds were originally established by Congress in 2008. Similarly to bond programs established for Gulf regions affected by hurricanes, they allow municipalities to sell bonds to investors and use the proceeds to fund loans to local development efforts, with all transactions carrying little to no liability for the cities and towns involved, and all exempt from taxation. In December 2009, the IRS revised a rule that focused the use of MDA bonds on redevelopment efforts strictly on flood-related projects and, in the process, placed discretion on the use of MDA bonds in the hands of the Governors of qualifying states.

We’re not sure how badly EPS suffered during the floods of 2008 and, if there’s money to go around…well, that’s the quibble. With states starving for operating money–even Iowa, which has kept its books in relatively good order compared to our batshit neighbors to the east–using disaster-relief schemes to help existing businesses avoid the tax hit that might come from financing a move within town seems chillingly pennywise.

Adventures in Giving Small Things Grand Names
The Literary Walk is set to expand into the North Side Marketplace Streetscape. In other news, the city has a North Side Marketplace Streetscape! Otherwise known as the bit of downtown bounded by Dubuque and Gilbert, Jefferson and Bloomington–its charm protected by Van Allen Hall from the chi-chi-fying forces affecting the rest of the city center–or as “on the way to Dirty John’s”.

Some local business owners, while acknowledging and celebrating the area’s unique character, have been pushing for better sidewalks and streets. In addition to such infrastructural improvements and bronze thingys celebrating book-learnin’, the Streetscape project seeks to add a few more parking spaces, plant new streetside greenery and provide more public seating areas and bike racks.

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