Archive for the ‘Pedestrian Mall’ Tag

Iowa City couple shifts from suburban to urban housing

The city-dwelling duo has always had an “affinity for urban living.”

By Lauren Sieben

Ina and Jerry Loewenberg

Ina and Jerry Loewenberg pose in their Plaza Towers condominium in downtown Iowa City. (Photo: Lauren Sieben)

Ina and Jerry Loewenberg moved straight to the suburbs when they first arrived to Iowa City in 1969. Two years ago, the New York natives decided to return to their urban roots without leaving the quaint Midwest.

The couple moved into Plaza Towers, a luxury condominium complex in the downtown Iowa City Pedestrian Mall. Ina said the attraction to Plaza Towers was instant: “When we walked in the door and saw the view.”

Looking for more information about downtown condominiums? Click here for the full article and an audio/visual tour of Plaza Towers.

Downtown convenience

The Loewenbergs first relocated to Iowa City for the university; Jerry came to the University of Iowa as a political science professor before serving as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences from 1984 to 1992. Ina worked for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in financial management.

Jerry and Ina lived in their River Heights home, a neighborhood located off North Dubuque Street, for 38 years before moving downtown.

“We loved our house. It was very beautiful and it suited us very well,” Ina said. But the move to Plaza Towers came at a natural turning point for the Loewenbergs. “We’re older people, so it was a good moment in our lives to think about downsizing to have less driving, no stairs — you know, a lot of conveniences for being older.”

And since moving from a house to a downtown apartment, the couple has been able to downsize considerably. Instead of two cars they now have one, and trips to the gas station have been reduced to a once-a-month affair.

“Your carbon footprint is much lower living in the city than it is living in the country,” Jerry said. “Suburban living, particularly for people our age, requires so much work that isn’t really very worthwhile.”

The Loewenbergs do almost all of their grocery shopping at the Bread Garden, a grocery store located on the first floor of Plaza Towers, and Ina walks to the nearby Senior Center “almost every day.”

“Everything is within walking distance. I still go to my office everyday in Shaeffer Hall, and that’s 10 minutes from here,” Jerry said.

Ped Mall noise: Not a nuisance

Plaza Towers

View of Plaza Towers from the top story, facing southwest (Photo: Lauren Sieben)

The Loewenbergs took advantage of the open layout in their one-bedroom, 1,650-square-foot condo to build two office studies and a bookcase. The unit also includes a patio overlooking the Ped Mall.

Their condo’s close proximity to the downtown bars doesn’t bother the Loewenbergs. “It sometimes gets a little noisy,” Ina said. “But growing up in New York was noisy.”

“People our age are not going to go cruising around at 10 o’clock at night anyway, so if it gets really noisy we can close the windows,” Jerry said.

Bobby Jett, the property manager at Moen Group, which developed of Plaza Towers, said in a recent interview that condo owners and renters in Plaza Towers range in age from mid 20s to late 80s.

“A lot of East coast people say they cannot believe how easy it is to get to stuff here, and how much is going on,” Jett said.

Jerry and Ina said they enjoy the wide age range of Plaza Towers residents.

“It’s a very mixed group of people in this building; there’s a few people our age but not many,” Jerry said. “And then every other age group, down to students. It’s wonderful.”

The couple says they don’t miss anything about suburban living, and they don’t foresee any future moves.

“We see it as all advantages, really. We’re very pleased with it,” Jerry said.

Click here for the main menu of the downtown housing story package, with links to more information about Iowa City condos and student apartments.

Downtown living reels in residents from ages “18 to 80”

The Pedestrian Mall party scene in Iowa City hasn’t dissuaded buyers from paying top dollar for luxury housing.

By Lauren Sieben

The University of Iowa touts numerous academic accolades, along with one honor that university officials might prefer to disregard: the number nine spot in the Princeton Review’s annual list of top party schools.

But in spite of Iowa City’s nocturnal transition into a hub for alcohol-fueled shenanigans, the party scene hasn’t deterred buyers at residential buildings downtown, including Plaza Towers — a luxury condominium complex in the downtown Pedestrian Mall.

“I remember when I graduated law school in ’79, realtors were telling me there was a lot of demand for downtown housing,” said Marc Moen, the founder of Moen Group and the developer of Plaza Towers. “Thirty years later there still weren’t any properties.”

Before the completion of Plaza Towers in 2006, the area was used as a parking lot. It was the last developable space in the city.

Bobby Jett and Marc Moen

Bobby Jett (left) and Marc Moen pose in their Plaza Towers penthouse. (Photo: Lauren Sieben)

The first three floors of the building house commercial property, including the hotelVetro lobby, Formosa, the Bread Garden and Iowa City Fitness. Hotel rooms occupy floors four through six, and the rest of the building – floors seven through 14 – houses condos for sale and for rent.

Each ultra-modern unit includes high-end appliances and a bird’s-eye view of the city. The condos essentially sell themselves, explained Bobby Jett, Moen’s husband and the property manager at Moen Group.

“We spend zero on advertising,” Jett said.

Moen Group owns other rental properties in Iowa City, primarily drawing in students. But the steep cost of living at Plaza Towers has kept most students out, attracting tenants and buyers who range in age between 20 and over 80 years old.

Paying a premium

A 500 to 600 square-foot unit at Plaza Towers rents for $1,180 a month; an 1,100 square-foot unit rents for around $2,160. Rent doesn’t include utilities or the $85 monthly parking fee, and condos are priced roughly between $350 and $460 per square foot.

$650,000 can afford a 1,675-square-foot unit with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Critics initially doubted the viability of high-end housing in Iowa City, but the condos at Plaza Towers sold before the complex was completed.

“All the banks said, ‘No way, it’s not going happen … no one will pay that,’ ” Jett said. “It was a gamble, but that’s the only way you really get ahead.”

Buyers who aren’t determined to live downtown can spend a fraction of the cost for double the space by taking their search a few miles out. As of November 2010, the average home in Iowa City sells for $141 per square foot, according to real estate search engine Trulia.com.

Party people

But many buyers are willing to spend double to live steps away from restaurants, shops, cultural events and even a few unruly undergraduates.

“Some point directly to the students and say ‘[They are why] I love being here,’ “ Moen said. “[But] if you ask people point blank if they live here because there’s a bunch of drunk people in town, they’d say no.”

Moen informally surveyed condo owners and tenants at Plaza Towers before the November city vote to either return to a 19 bar age in Iowa City or retain the 21 ordinance — the 21 ordinance ultimately won. But the results of his survey, Moen said, were “all over the board.”

“People that live and bought here wanted to do it because the students were here. They wanted to be around energy,” Jett said.

Click here to read a profile of the Loewenbergs and find out why the Iowa City couple moved from their longtime suburban home to a condo in Plaza Towers.

Linn St. Place

The success of Plaza Towers has inspired similar projects downtown, bringing in higher numbers of permanent residents to a traditionally student-dominated neighborhood.

Ryan O'Leary poses at Linn St. Place

Realtor Ryan O'Leary sells renovated condominiums at Linn St. Place, a building formerly occupied by student renters. (Photo: Lauren Sieben)

Two blocks away from Plaza Towers at the corner of Linn and Court streets, Ryan O’Leary, a realtor at Lepic-Kroeger in Iowa City, sells renovated condos at a price point close to that of Plaza Towers.

Linn Street Place, formerly a student apartment building, first began renovations in the past year and a half, O’Leary said. The three-floor building is home to commercial offices and 48 residential units; some renovated, some undergoing renovations and others still being leased to tenants.

The base price for one of O’Leary’s units starts between $175,000 and $225,000, averaging $250 to $275 per square foot.

“One of my colleagues had said that he thought we were crazy,” O’Leary Said. “He said what we should have done was just painted the walls and changed the fridges and then sold them to rich kids from Chicago. And I was really offended by that, because the infrastructure of the building is excellent.”

Costs by comparison: Downtown and eastside property for sale

  • A one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit at downtown Linn St. Place with 900 square feet is listed for $277,000.
  • Less than a mile away, a three-bedroom two-bathroom home on Governor Street with 1,786 square feet and a back yard is listed for $250,000.
  • Source: Lepic-Kroeger, Realtors Current Listings (Oct. 20, 2010)
An unrenovated kitchen

An un-renovated kitchen at Linn St. Place (Photo: Lauren Sieben)

Each unit has a patio – some as large as 15 by 30 feet – and each comes with two heated, underground parking spots and storage space.

O’Leary’s aims his marketing efforts at young professionals, retirees and empty nesters. The condos have attracted buyers from ages “18 to 80.” The trick, O’Leary said, is not to target only one demographic in marketing the renovated units.

“The fact that we are two blocks from downtown makes a huge difference,” O’Leary said, noting that the building’s proximity to restaurants and shops attracts buyers who are environmentally conscious and looking for “walkability.”

Although O’Leary’s marketing efforts haven’t focused on students, some parents of students have shown interest in purchasing units for their children.

“We figure our building will appeal to anybody … that values both a clean quiet and a professional atmosphere, but also the proximity to downtown,” he said.

Remodeled kitchen

A remodeled kitchen in one of O'Leary's fully-renovated condominiums (Photo: Lauren Sieben)

At the start of the building’s transition from rentals into condos, O’Leary struggled with a few rowdy student renters. But after the first year of new rules, O’Leary said partying isn’t a problem and hasn’t dampened the interest of buyers.

“The perception by many is that anything within a mile of downtown is going to be overrun with students having loud parties four nights a week. That’s just not the case,” O’Leary said. “There are lots of neighborhoods that are clean and quiet and don’t have problems with vandalism or noise pollution.”

Future projects?

Other developers have built similar high-end condos, but mostly outside of downtown and into nearby Coralville.

The University of Iowa plans to rebuild the Voxman School of Music and Clapp Recital Hall — a complex that was destroyed by the 2008 flood — at the southeast corner of Burlington and Clinton streets. The $125 million building includes plans of residential condominium space, according to a report from Facilities Management.

Talk has also circulated of condo development above the future University of Iowa Museum of Art, but university spokesperson Tom Moore said potential locations for the new museum have not yet been determined.

Money, Jett said, is the key factor for future projects downtown.

“Of [permanent residents], how many have the income to buy something here who don’t want a yard and a swing set?” he said. “It’s a very, very limited number of people who want to live like this and who can afford to live like this, so to build another [building] like this – could it even survive? Are there enough people that could fill it? That’s the unknown.”

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