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Forum attendees discuss future Hancher site

BY CLAIRE PERLMAN | JULY 10, 2009 7:10 AM

On Thursday evening, Hancher supporters, students, and UI faculty met in Macbride Hall to discuss the future of the art and music buildings destroyed in the 2008 flood.

Although the entire Art Campus was destroyed or severely damaged, the forum focused mainly on potential new locations for the Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex.

After the last presenter of the night, Joe Hibbard, representing the urban planning firm Sasaki Associates, finished talking about the advantages and disadvantages of the two sites, the forum was opened to the public.

But despite the salient campus issue, the audience arguably lacked student voices, perhaps because of the summertime scheduling. The crowd was undeniably an older one, hailing predominantly from the city’s West Side and favoring one criteria: keeping the new complex close to the river.

“I think the university made a good decision about the location of Hancher, but it was wrong about the elevation. What about putting it over the river?” said audience member Herb Wilson.

The idea seemed to capture the crowd; it was mentioned in several of the subsequent comments.

UI officials originally presented eight possibilities to the state Board of Regents, but the task force eliminated six for reasons such as size, insufficient parking space, or still being in the floodplain.

Of the remaining two sites, one neighbored the Levitt Center, and the other encompassed an entire block on Burlington Street on which a gas station, two banks, and an apartment complex are located.

Most speakers in the forum strongly favored the site near the Levitt Center. They reminisced about the beauty of the old music buildings and did not wish to change the setting so dramatically — as moving the complex away from the river to a more central, downtown location would do.

Two recent UI graduates said the would prefer to build the complex closer to the city center.

And they had support from UI urban and regional planning Professor James Throgmorton. He asked the members of the public to open their minds to the potential of a downtown location.

Notably, it would be surrounded by other stately buildings.

The complex would face the Old Capitol dome on one side, the Johnson County Courthouse on the other, and the gothic towers of the UI Hospitals and Clinics on the third.

“It is a mistake to separate the university from the city,” Throgmorton said. “Open yourself to how either site could be made to work very well.”


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