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SouthGate Aims to Revive West Branch

Deidre Bello

Iowa City Press-Citizen

June 17, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

WEST BRANCH -- An Iowa City development company wants to help West Branch residents revitalize a downtown hampered by high business turnover.

SouthGate Companies in Iowa City is under contract to purchase the buildings along Main Street, around Heritage Square, that once housed West Branch Bar and Grill, the Hoover House and the Downey Street Tea House and Cappuccino Bar.

Designs by architect Steve Rohrbach of Rohrbach Carlson PC in Iowa City show scenarios for improvements, such as the addition of outdoor seating, shade trees and a roundabout where city property borders National Park Service property. Another scenario moves the town's gazebo to the middle of Main Street, where it is a centerpiece for a roundabout.

The plans are just ideas for improvements. SouthGate plans to collect input from residents, business owners, town leaders, school officials and the National Park Service, said Jody Braverman, SouthGate's vice president.

"The vision is an attractive vibrant downtown area that preserves its historic quality and is home to a variety of financially successful businesses," Braverman said.

The key to West Branch is its historic roots, he said. In addition, the town has a national landmark, is close to Interstate 80 and the community has an interest in making things happen for the better, Braverman said.

City Administrator Ty Doermann said he and other city officials look forward to working with SouthGate on the project.

"We're looking forward to making one conceptual idea out of everybody's goals," Doermann said. "It needs to be a joint venture."

West Branch resident Audrey Kofoed said the company's goals were a good push for existing revitalization and economic groups to get things done.

"It puts enthusiasm into revitalizing as well as bringing their expertise and history of development," Kofoed said. "It would be good if (we) can all come together and accomplish something because it would help everyone."

The newly formed, Friends of Historic Downtown West Branch, also can help further revitalization efforts, Kofoed said. The group aims to acquire grant funding by local economic development groups to improve the downtown.

Recently the West Branch downtown revitalization adhoc committee has led efforts to clean the downtown and foster economic activity. The group asked city officials to take action in painting cross walks, and establishing a maintenance schedule, among other suggestions.