IOWA CITY — Roughly 73 acres along Interstate 80 and Dubuque Street once planned as a new gateway development into Iowa City — displacing mobile home tenants in the process — now is being marketed for a mix of residential, commercial and retail development.
The property is listed for sale and being marketed by The Tailwind Group, a Minnesota-based real estate development and acquisition company serving as master developer for the property.
“We have the property under contract and have done all the due diligence on it and are working toward closing,” said Jon Fahning, director of real estate development with The Tailwind Group.
No application for development-related activities have been received by the city so far.
Tailwind manages student housing complexes across the United States, including two in Iowa City — The Quarters at Iowa City and The Nest Iowa City. The company also owns some commercial and retail property in downtown Iowa City.
Fahning said the company is not planning on building more student housing on the property, which was once home to nearly 100 families who lived in the ramshackle Forest View Mobile Home Court.
“There will be an affordable housing component as part of the project to replace mobile homes that were part of the site,” Fahning told The Gazette. “We will work hand-in-hand with the city on that as part of the planning process.”
In 2016, Blackbird Investments, a Des Moines real estate development firm, and North Dubuque LLC, proposed a housing project on the property that would include apartments, condos, townhomes, offices, stores or hotels.
In response, the city rezoned the property, working with the tenants and the developers to come to a compromise on the fate of the mobile home park. Residents were told they’d be relocated to another nearby park where they would have rent-to-own options.
The plan was to develop 73 acres that included the mobile home park into a mix of housing and commercial space. The mobile home residents were promised first consideration for the manufactured and multifamily housing that was going to be built there.
But then nothing happened for more than a year.
The proposed development did not move forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic, landowners told The Gazette. They said the mobile homes there, many badly dilapidated, would not survive another winter.
In response, the council created a voluntary relocation plan that provided funds to people to pay for their relocation to another residence.
The city used federal pandemic aid, supplemented with local funds, for a $1.3 million voluntary relocation program intended to help tenants find safe, stable housing ahead of the park’s closure.
It used just more than $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars and $232,470 in local funds to pay the eligible households $15,750 in relocation assistance, according to a city memo from February.
The Center for Worker Justice reported that about 57 percent of households relocated within the city, and 28 percent relocated somewhere else in Johnson County. At least 7 percent moved out of Johnson County but stayed in Iowa, according to the city memo. The remaining 8 percent either relocated outside the state or did not report their new location.
All residents vacated the property by a Dec. 9, 2022, deadline and mobile homes have been cleared from the site.
City Manager Geoff Fruin said Iowa will work closely with any future owner “to ensure alignment with our Comprehensive Plan and zoning classifications.”
Anticipated land uses for the property range from low- to medium-density residential through multifamily residential to neighborhood and highway commercial.
“The City has a strong interest in seeing this property redevelop,” Fruin responded in an email to The Gazette. “In addition to meeting housing supply and economic goals, the development of this area will provide critical roadway infrastructure that will build our community’s flood resilience by providing a critical secondary access way for the established Mackinaw / Peninsula neighborhoods.”
Fruin added the city chose to move forward with providing relocation assistance after the rezoning comprise fell through “in the best interest of residents that were faced with rapidly deteriorating living conditions during a global pandemic that presented significant other public health and economic hardships.”
“Assisting those residents in a time of great need was absolutely an appropriate step to take considering the dire circumstances facing our community,” he said. “The City looks forward to working in partnership with the future owners to redevelop this site in a manner that enhances our emergency preparedness and adds new residential, commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods.”
Fahning said The Tailwind Group has the property under contract and is working toward closing and having further conversations with city staff about options for redeveloping the property.
“We need to better understand what market demands are and how that matches the city’s vision,” he said. “We’re really re-looking at this from the beginning of what’s going to make a viable project to support the community and community demands and needs.”
Fahning said the real estate development company has received “a good amount of interest” from local, regional and national groups “for uses on the commercial, retail and residential side, but we’re early on in the process.”
“The visibility and accessibility with I-80 and Dubuque Street being a major entry way into Iowa City serves that property well,” he said.
A list price for the property was not available. Fahning said The Tailwind Group was still working through what improvements will need to be made to deliver the land to buyers.
“We’re marketing the property to generate interest and find potential users that have interest in the property from office/commercial to retail components,” he said.
Once the company closes on the property, Fahning said Tailwind will begin a study on wetlands delineation to determine how much of the property can be developed and coordinate with city, county and state on transportation access, a comprehensive plan amendment, rezoning and preliminary and final plat approval.
“Overall master planning is what our focus will be,” he said, to create options for new development that “generate property and sales tax base and bring uses to Iowa City and the region that may or may not exist today.”
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