Town and Gown conference: Ames future envisioned

James Heggen

Jeff Johnson, president and chief executive officer/publisher of the ISU Alumni Association, presented his vision of Ames, and where he wants to see it go in the future, to representatives from cities and universities across the country Thursday morning in the Scheman Building of Iowa State Center.

The talk was part of the 5th Annual Best Practices in Building University/City Relations Conference held this year in Ames.

The conference is put on by the International Town and Gown Association, an organization of university cities for discussing issues unique to these types of cities.

Johnson talked about his experience in different university towns around the country, and said often times Iowa is overlooked because of its humble people.

“Iowa is like Nike, we just do it and then we don’t tell anyone about it,” he said.

He focused most of his time talking about Iowa State and the Ames community as a whole. He said many times, Iowa State is seen as “moo u” but in reality has very cultured and intelligent students.

Johnson called Ames an awesome small town with big city amenities, many of which have been derived from the Town and Gown relationship between the city and the university, although it is not always clear.

“You can forget if you’re not from here that all of this didn’t happen because of Iowa State,” he said.

Johnson, who also serves on the planning and zoning commission and has held other city positions in the past, said sometimes the city relies too much on the university for its identity.

“But Town and Gown works here in Ames, and it works for Iowa State … our city lacks a vision, though,” he said.

Johnson has pushed the city to come up with a vision and to imagine itself without the university and many of the other state and federal entities that do not pay property taxes in Ames.

“We need to decide what is the future for supporting the true quality of life initiatives that we want in our cities,” he said.

Johnson said there are good opportunities for creativity and entrepreneurship.

“You’re not going to find a lot of chain restaurants in Ames, Iowa,” he said.

Johnson said he also wants to market Ames in this respect as a way to attract people.

“If you have an idea, this is truly an idea city where ideas can flourish.”

Johnson talked about how he thinks the city is doing working on these things right now.

“The new council gives me great hope,” he said.