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The Trifecta of Local Development

Nicholas Johnson

July 21, 2005

In the ongoing exploration of just how much local development Johnson County can absorb, an economist said of a proposed $200 million development for a town of 1500 population, "A proposed outlet mall in Tiffin may be too much retail space for this area to handle." (See link to full story at the Coralville rain forest Web site, click on "Public Money".) That was reported on July 20, 2005.

By the next day there were three stories on the Press-Citizen's front page involving large local developments: a follow up story on the Tiffin project, the Riverside casino, and a new Coralville development -- in addition to the $180 million indoor rain forest (to which the paper made no reference on that day). Here, then, is the July 21st "Trifecta of Local Development."

The $107 million Riverside, Iowa, project proposes a gambling "casino . . . decorated like a high-end Iowa riverboat from the mid-1800s, . . . an 18-hole golf course, 200-room hotel, restaurants and a 1,200-seat entertainment center." (The only difference might be that in the mid-1880s entrepreneurs knew better than to put a "high-end Iowa riverboat" in the middle of a corn field outside a town of 930 population only 15 miles down the road from Iowa City-Coralville.)

Meanwhile, the latest Coralville development involves an 86-acre tract on which developers will first build multi-unit apartment buildings, followed by future construction of facilities for "commercial or light industrial businesses" (a matter that might impact the attractiveness of the area for apartment dwellers).

For reference, according to the Iowa City-Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau, those two communities alone already have 2,250 available hotel/motel rooms. According to the 2000 census, Iowa City then had 26,052 dwelling units, of which 13,446 were renter-occupied. Not discussed in these stories is Coralville's plan to build a 250-room hotel, with 60,000 square feet of conference and meeting space adjacent to the proposed rain forest. Zack Kucharski, "Coralville Hotel Bids Exceed Plan," The Gazette, November 20, 2004.

More details are provided in the three stories from the July 21 Iowa City Press-Citizen, below:

Adam Pracht, "Town Leaders See Mall Proposal"

Heather McElvain, "Work on Riverside Casino Gets Going"

Adam Pracht, "Coralville Development in Early Stages"

[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.]

Town Leaders See Mall Proposal
Developers Say Plans for The Villages Likely Will Change

Adam Pracht

Iowa City Press-Citizen

July 21, 2005

TIFFIN -- Developers of a proposed $200 million, 200-acre project presented an outline to city leaders for the first time Wednesday night.

Regency Land Services in conjunction with High Development Corporation are proposing a development that would include an outlet mall, hotel, water park, restaurants, condos and office space.

City councilors, planning and zoning board members and about a dozen community members gathered to hear the presentation during an informal 30-minute meeting.

Darryl High, president and CEO of High Development, said the plans for the area probably would change as it was worked on.

"There's a lot of things that we need to work out that we don't have worked out this evening," he said. "But this is the starting point."

No matter what the final plan, High said the goal for the development, called The Villages at Tiffin, was to create a high-caliber area. For example, the new area would include about 37 acres of green space, parks or water features and a bicycle path and antique street lamps.

Those building in the development would be required to adhere to strict landscaping and appearance rules, High said.

"We do understand that this is the front door to your community," he said.

Although the meeting was intended to inform city officials, citizens had an opportunity to ask questions.

Gary Kee, a resident of Tiffin for 18 years, said he was concerned about the density of people moving into new multifamily residential areas. High estimated about 400 units would go into the 26 acres of residential development, which Kee said concerned him.

"I have trouble reconciling 'The Village' and antique road signs with housing at 15 units per acre," he said.

But High replied that other projects done by Regency Land Services, a division of Regency Homes, had combined low- and high-density housing without one overpowering the other.

Barbara McDonald, who lives on 46 acres of forest reserve just north of the proposed commercial area, said she still doesn't have a clear idea of what the project would mean in terms of more residents and new commercial areas.

She also was worried about the effect the area might have on the reserve.

"I think there are always concerns when development takes place," McDonald said. "I think development can be done well or it can be done poorly, and I think we've seen examples of both.

"I think my biggest concern is maintaining the quality of life for neighbors, who have in many cases moved out here for it."

Tiffin mayor Glenn Potter said the next formal City Council meeting on Aug. 10 would include time for more presentation and questions from the public regarding the proposal.

He said the city had been planning to develop the area for years, and Potter didn't anticipate much public resistance.

"You can't have the ideal location in Johnson County forever and not have it developed," he said.

Work on Riverside Casino Gets Going
Almost 300 Attend Picnic, Groundbreaking

Heather McElvain

Iowa City Press-Citizen

July 21, 2005

RIVERSIDE -- Construction of the Riverside Casino and Resort officially is under way.

Nearly 300 people stood in 95 degree heat Wednesday to watch a groundbreaking ceremony for the $107 million casino, golf course and resort, which is scheduled to open in fall 2007. A community picnic with free food, music and a clown followed.

Joe Massa, general manager of Catfish Bend Casino in Fort Madison, a partner in the Riverside project, said Wednesday was an exciting day.

"It really kind of makes it real," he said.

Kathy Lindhorst, a 55-year-old who was born and raised in Riverside, attended the groundbreaking. She said she hopes the casino will breathe some life into her town. She noted there were four taverns in Riverside when she was a child and now several downtown businesses are empty.

One vacant building on Riverside's main drag still displays a sign urging residents to vote to approve the casino project in August 2004.

"Hopefully it will pull us out of the slump," Lindhorst said. "(Riverside) has ended up as a dust bowl, a ghost town. Hopefully things will be perking up."

Riverside Mayor Bill Poch spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony. He said the casino is expected to bring more than 800 jobs and a $55 million tax base to his town of less than 1,000 people.

"If you want a future, bet on Riverside," he said. "The casino will be the catalyst."

Poch mentioned a list of projects he hopes casino money will make possible, including a new fire station, renovations to downtown businesses, new street lights, a library and a recreation center.

The casino and the city already signed a Tax Increment Financing agreement with Washington County to build a $9.4 million sewer and water system to support the casino and the town.

But not all Riverside residents are optimistic about the casino's effect. Paul Debbins, a 39-year-old who's lived in Riverside for 2½ years, said he's been opposed to the casino since discussions about it started in early 2004.

"It's basically an industry that extracts money from people," he said. "If this town gets ugly because of it, I'll leave."

Right now the casino site is nothing but a small clearing in a cornfield off Highway 22 on the east side of town.

Massa, who recently was in Las Vegas meeting with an interior decorator for the casino, said he hopes the buildings will be up and enclosed before early winter.

In addition to the casino, which Massa said would be decorated like a high-end Iowa riverboat from the mid-1800s, the casino project includes an 18-hole golf course, 200-room hotel, restaurants and a 1,200-seat entertainment center.

Coralville Development in Early Stages
$1.98M Land Transaction Made

Adam Pracht

Iowa City Press-Citizen

July 21, 2005

CORALVILLE -- Preliminary plans are under way for the residential and commercial development of more than 86 acres of land on the west end of Coralville.

The investment company that bought the land for $1.98 million June 24 is named AFC Development -- A for Gerry Ambrose of Ambrose Development, F for Chad Freeman of Chad Freeman Construction and C for Jeff Carew of Carew Landscapping, which sold the land. The three are joined by an anonymous partner.

The land is east of Interstate 380, north of Highway 6, south of Forevergreen Road and west of Coral Ridge Avenue.

Ambrose said the west part of the property borders what he and the others hope will be the new northbound on-ramp from Highway 6 to Interstate 380. State transportation officials are considering the new interchange.

"We're optimistic that's going to happen," Ambrose said.

If Kansas Avenue is extended through the land, it also would help the development of the area, Ambrose said. He said a planned street running east then northeast from an extended Kansas Avenue would eventually connect to Oakdale Boulevard.

He said he thought Kansas Avenue would become the main entrance to a major developing area.

Ambrose said he hoped the project would be under way this fall with land grading.

He said two groups already have expressed interest in locating commercial or light industrial businesses in the area, but he declined to say who they were. He said it was too early to tell how many businesses to expect for the area.

About 11 or 12 acres of the first phase would probably go to creating 12-unit multi-family residences along the planned road connecting to Oakdale Boulevard, Ambrose said. He expected they would be completed by early summer 2006.

Ambrose said the land that was purchased should be an area of growth in the coming years.

"From Highway 6 to Oakdale Boulevard -- there's a lot going on there," he said.

Messages left with Carew Landscaping were not immediately retuned Wednesday.