Evaluating TIF-Funded Proposals on their Merits

(Guest Commentary by Rockne Cole)

20150608mo-rockne-cole-2014TIF’s been on my mind… With all of the discussion recently relating to TIF, I thought it would be helpful to identify a TIF that I actually support, or at least makes a lot more sense to me… the Vito’s conversion. [1, 2, 3]

First, it’s size $250,000.00: much smaller [4], more targeted, and much less financial risk to the city.

Secondly, it preserved a prime historic building downtown [5], and adaptively reused it. Without historic preservation design standards downtown, which I support, all of those buildings downtown are at risk. Without those standards, some incentives may be required to ensure that our treasured downtown locales are not razed to build highest and best use. This at least provided some incentive to reuse and reimagine a space. (The Jefferson Hotel [6] comes to mind…)

Third, it was offered expressly on condition that it not be a bar, which at the time was a necessary focus for preventing the downtown from becoming a giant drink special, promenade.

Fourth, without the luxury residential above, the ‘but for’ analysis appeared to have been much more valid, which also avoided the toxic polarization of wealth issue that we now confront.

Five, the space offered a mix of use that hitherto had not been in the downtown for a while.

Six, it provided an incubator for new arts non-profits as well as additional office space, which remains in short supply downtown.

Finally, TIF funds were primarily used to make sure that building met ADA standards, ensuring access for everyone from our friends with physical limitations to elderly residents. I will always be more willing to consider a TIF if it includes just ends…

One caveat, however, we still need to make sure that private capital could not achieve the same result without the subsidy. Yes, I am aware that the financial reports that support the gap analysis for each TIF, but those tend to focus only on the financial support of the actually proposed project as opposed to alternatives that could be possibly be achieved at lower cost. That is more difficult where the developer owns the property since no private developer will offer a design proposal for someone else’s property… (this is also true with historic preservation BTW – what would highest and best use be with the comp plan bonus points?)

And, yes, I am aware that the same developer that did Vito’s, also is behind the Chauncey. While I recognize some of its proposed benefits, I simply believe that the economic displacement; social polarization, neighborhood destabilization, stress on a community of faith [7], and public subsidy outweigh its benefits, especially on a night like tonight where our beloved coop is once again in peril of flash flooding….

We must reject ideological mono-culture. Dissent sharpens public focus, reveals hidden weakness, strengthens public confidence, opens new channels of community input, and most importantly, creates a more resilient and vibrant community. Embrace and celebrate it! If we disagree today on one issue, we should collaborate tomorrow on finding a solution to another. That’s my motto, and should be yours too…


The links in the article above, along with the footnotes and links below were added by the Iowa City Architecture editorial team to provide additional background and context to the above story.

  1. Tax-increment funding should not be used in Vito’s renovation,” Daily Iowan, 21 April 2011, by the Daily Iowan Editorial Board.
  2. Our View – Vito’s renovation good investment of city money,” Press Citizen, 24 April 2011, Staff Editorial.
  3. TIF plans create controversy in Iowa City,” Daily Iowan, 17 October 2011, by Asmaa Elkeurti.
  4. Committee approves Chauncey funding model,” Press Citizen, 14 Jul 2014, by Mitchell Schmidt. Excerpt: “Previous TIF assistance to Moen from the city has included $6 million for Plaza Towers, $2.8 million for Park@201 and $250,000 for the former Vito’s building renovation.”
  5. See the Blackstone Building, 118 E College St., location #1 in the Iowa City Historic Buildings Map (View PDF File).
  6. Iowa City’s Jefferson Building may go back to being a hotel — UI leaders see the building as being underutilized and a potential asset to the community,” The Gazette, 28 March 2014, by Gregg Hennigan.
  7. Regarding the ‘stress on a community of faith’ the following additional clarification was provided by Rockne on Facebook:
    Trinity has consistently focused on the impact of unlimited density on the ability of its elderly and disabled residents to attend Sunday services due to lack of parking as well as for its mission during the week. They are also concerned about the social justice implications of so much going to those who do not need the assistance…. the alternative proposals contained much higher percentage of workforce housing units. Third, they also have expressed environmental concerns relating to the failure to support a carbon neutral building. The 404 project (see PDF) would have been a model in design as well as energy efficiency. Fourth, they have concerns about the total destruction of chauncey swan park during the construction. The proposed post-chauncey images show a green totally devoid of trees. Finally, they have concerns about the long term implications of the city totally ignoring its own comprehensive plan as well as its failure to utilize the good neighbor policy. Neighbors to the immediate east and west of the project are 90 % opposed to the project (with exception of Blank and McCune giving its unstinting support to it,) and have been since the beginning.”


Note: As a community-based information resource to foster public engagement, the Iowa City Architecture website avoids taking sides on local issues. However, we welcome articles like the one above that help explore issues relating to development in an articulate, respectful, substantive, balanced, and factual way. Through open public discussion, understanding and awareness is broadened so we can arrive at the best decisions as a community. Submit your comments or articles via our contact page.

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