IC to consider selling three city-owned properties for redevelopment

By Gigi Wood

Iowa City’s property tax base could increase if three city-owned properties are sold for redevelopment. At its meeting this morning, the Iowa City economic development committee discussed the possible advantages and pitfalls of disposing of the land.

Jeff Davidson, the city’s planning and community development director, said the three properties, which are property-tax exempt, have received interest from developers. The proposed projects for the three sites could generate “significant” property tax values and consequently, property tax revenues. It has been a top priority of the city council in recent years to increase property tax revenues in order to bolster the city’s operating budget, as state and federal funding sources to the city have shrunk.

At the same time, Mr. Davidson and the committee, made up of Mayor Matt Hayek and councilors Regenia Bailey and Susan Mims, stressed the importance of maintaining possession of city-owned properties that may be needed in the future as the city grows. There are no current plans for expansion of city facilities due to the economic climate.

The first site discussed is the former St. Patrick’s Catholic Church location, at 228 E. Court St. The church building was destroyed by a tornado in 2006. The church has since reopened at4330 St. Patrick Dr.The property has not generated property tax revenue since the 1920s, Mr. Davidson said.

The city staff has long discussed entering a partnership with a private developer to construct a mixed-use building that would include 100 units of workforce housing, 10,000-12,000 square feet of commercial space and a 575-space parking ramp. Each component, minus the parking ramp, would be privately owned and developed.

Mr. Hayek pointed out that the site is surrounded by dense student housing and Mr. Davidson said the issue of noise and traffic coming from those adjacent sites would be an important consideration during the project’s planning process.

The second site is at the northeast corner of Gilbert and College streets. The three-parcel site includes a former bus station, former auto repair shop and a former sporting goods store that houses a bicycle library, as well as a MidAmerican substation. The energy company has long planned to remove the substation.

The third site is the Old Public Works property at the southeast corner of highways 1 and 6 and Riverside Drive. A hotel developer has shown interest in the site. Of the three, it would likely be the last to be sold, because the city needs to perform soil studies to determine the level of contamination at the site, which was a former dump. The city also needs to determine its legal responsibilities for the site because of that possible contamination, said Rick Fosse, the city’s public works director. Public works facilities on the site would be moved to city land on Napoleon Street.

The city is awaiting results of a space needs study and facility report, which is due at the end of the year. The study will be used in the city’s strategic planning process to determine what city-owned buildings are necessary and which ones can be sold.

The economic development committee directed city staff to draft requests for proposals for the first two sites. Those RFPs will be publicized during coming months to determine the development community’s interest in the three properties.