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Project worth $56 million approved to revitalize Iowa City Ped Mall

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - A project more than two years in the making will revitalize the College Street entrance to the beloved Ped Mall in Iowa City. The 56-million-dollar project will bring new businesses, a theatre and an 11-story apartment building to the area.

The project will span from the old home of Martini's at 127 East College Street west to the former home of El Patron Mexican restaurant at 109 East College Street. In the row of several businesses, Revival clothing is the only one returning for business under the new owners.

The Tailwind Group out of Minnesota has been collecting all the properties along this front for years.

"One of our goals for the project was to bring a more diverse demographic back to the Ped Mall," Brandon Smith, vice president of Tailwind said.

Tailwind will divide up the more than 40,000 square feet of space among Riverside Theatre Company, who is in need of a new home, Revival clothing and more. The plan is to attract a brewery and another retailor.

"With our new building, you can get to and from work, to a store, to a restaurant all within a two-to-three block radius," Smith said.

The former bar and music venue Union is also in this row and is taking up much of the space. Tailwind is working with Iowa City-based contractors Neumann Monson to cut the existing storefronts in half and place an 11-story apartment building on the back end.

The 102-unit complex should be available for leasing in August of 2022.

For projects like this, developers can choose to either make a certain percentage of their units affordable or pay the city a "fee in lieu". Tailwind elected to pay the fee, on a per-unit basis, which will come out to $1.9 million.

During Tuesday's council meeting, several people called in to say they had a problem with this; claiming the city always lets developers just pay the fee and doesn't every build affordable housing.

City Councilors acknowledged that is true to an extent but said the fee makes sense for this project. Their main reason was that there is a stipulation where the owners would only need to make the units affordable for 15 years and then could raise the rates again.

"Unfortunately in circumstances like this, it disappears in a relatively short period of time," District C Councilman John Thomas said Tuesday.

The Council has said it wants to overhaul its affordable housing policies and decided to take the fee this time. However, they promised affordable housing downtown is something they will work for.

"We just need to look at our affordable housing policy and change it. I would love to see, especially in the downtown, permanent affordability," Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih said.

Tailwind says since one of their biggest new tenants, Riverside Theatre, is a nonprofit, they needed to apply for tax increment funding. The city approved this as well, giving Tailwind $12.25 in incremented tax rebates over the next 15 years.