Forum to discuss Hancher relocation today

BY SAM LANE | OCTOBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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The public will have one of its final opportunities to weigh in on the relocation of Hancher Auditorium tonight.

The second and final forum on this issue, which will start at 6 p.m. in Macbride Auditorium, will include a presentation of research findings by an outside consultant and allow community members to give their opinions on the two possible locations.

UI officials are deciding between moving the Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex just up the hill from its previous location on the West Side of campus or locating it across the river south of Burlington Street near downtown Iowa City.

The state Board of Regents will have the final say on the new location.

The UI held its first Hancher forum in July, where officials revealed the two final locations narrowed down from an original list of eight sites. But because the forum was held in the summer, it lacked many UI students and employees.

“At the first forum, we just needed to share the information quickly,” said Rod Lehnertz, Facilities Management’s director of planning, design and construction, who will present opening comments at tonight’s forum. “We’re encouraging students, staff, faculty, and the general public to show up. We don’t want any one group to outnumber another.”

For more than 30 years, Hancher shimmered on the bank of the Iowa River, a symbol of the strength of Iowa City’s arts community. But extensive flood damage forced the auditorium to close in June 2008. Commonly referred to as “The Hancher Debate,” many feel strongly about where the auditorium should end up.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has pledged to cover 90 percent of the costs at either location.

“A lot of it is mathematics,” Lehnertz said. “Sites were only viable if they were significantly protected from flooding sites.”

The West Side location on Park Road is adjacent to the Levitt Center and near many campus arts buildings. Proponents of this location cite its ample space, a quality that would likely accommodate easier access to parking. In addition to the space capabilities, many consider the location’s historic placement near the river as an important factor.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Iowa City resident Miriam Canter, 87. “[The West Side location] has an ambiance not seen downtown.”

Despite the aesthetics of the West Side, many, including Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey, see the downtown location as an opportunity to benefit the city’s development and increase student accessibility.

“It will add vibrancy to downtown,” she said. “The downtown location represents a 21st-century Hancher.”

The west location seems more removed from the rest of the campus, an issue for some students.

“A downtown location would add more attention,” said UI junior Andrew Phinney. “I didn’t get over there much; downtown would make it more accessible.”

But a group of freshmen walking along the Pentacrest agreed an auditorium by its past location would be better for music students.

It would also be safer, they said, noting that the downtown location is often flooded with students at night.

Lehnertz said both locations would take up approximately 400,000 square feet, roughly two city blocks. The university owns the West Side land but would need to purchase the downtown site.

No official price for the project has been set, but Lehnertz and his planning team estimate the project at either location will cost between $250 million and $270 million.

Joe Hibbard, the consultant who will facilitate tonight’s forum, said officials expect a high turnout.

“During the summer, there weren’t as many people speaking for the School of Music,” Hibbard said. “We expect this one will be well-attended — there’s a fairly high level of community interest.”

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