Coralville Mayor John Lundell reflects on career, city’s growth

John Lundell will retire as mayor for the City of Coralville when his term ends on Dec. 31, leaving behind a legacy of more than 40 years of public service.

Ending a four term spell as mayor dating back to 2014, Mr. Lundell helped push for development in commercial areas, worked to grow the University of Iowa Research Park and Iowa River Landing, and unveiled Xtream Arena.

“That was such a huge project that was in the planning stages for probably about 20 years and it just had to wait for its time for when the stars aligned in terms of financing it,” he said, referring to Xtream Arena. “It’s really the capstone of what we want to achieve down in the Iowa River Landing, so I’m really proud of that.”

A graduate of the University of Iowa, Mr. Lundell moved to Coralville in 1980 from West Virginia. He remembers Coralville as a much different city back then, with a welcome sign that declared the city as the hub of hospitality.

“Originally, it was kind of a sleepy, working class suburban community,” he said. “Our commercial base was really motels and restaurants. About the time I started to move here, that was slowly starting to change … to a very vibrant community.” This shift brought about new subdivisions and expanded city limits.

Before long, the city identified the Iowa River Landing as a prime spot for redevelopment.

“Back in the eighties, that area used to be one of the ugliest first impressions people could have of a community,” he said. “You’d see a junkyard, abandoned buildings, strip clubs and dirty bookstores.”

Before serving on the city council and as a mayor, he worked as the director of Iowa City Transit from 1986 to 1994.

“I was at my office on a Wednesday morning and former Iowa City Mayor John McDonald called me and said, ‘John, the city council went out for a couple of beers last night and decided we’d like you to be our next transit manager,'” said Mr. Lundell. “So I said, ‘Gosh, you must have had a couple beers if you want me to do it,’ but with the council’s backing I applied.”

He then was the deputy director for the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center from 1994 to 2015.

“I was just ready for a new challenge,” he explained. The position required him to be knowledgeable about grant writing and to have training in health and safety – which he possessed as a former volunteer firefighter.

Although he learned he’d “never be able to please everyone,” he regarded his time as mayor as a “unique opportunity to represent a great community.”

Meghann Foster is set to become the next Coralville mayor and the city’s first woman mayor.

“We’ve been very careful to ensure the financial stability of the city,” he said. “So I would encourage future councils and mayors to — and I’m sure they will — ensure that financial stability, so you can continue to provide the great services that citizens and businesses have come to expect.”

Mr. Lundell’s career will be celebrated at a reception at Brown Deer Golf Club on Dec. 28.