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Final Hancher debate draws crowd, concerns

BY SHANE ERSLAND | OCTOBER 13, 2009 7:20 AM

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Several Iowa City residents debated well after the final Hancher forum was scheduled to end Monday night.

For some, it was the last chance to fight for where they want the complex’s new home.

UI officials continue to weigh two locations for the Hancher/Voxman/Clapp complex: just up the hill from its previous location on the West Side of campus or moving it south of Burlington Street near downtown.

Upwards of 300 people crowded into Macbride Auditorium for the discussion on Monday night.

After a presentation from an outside consultant, attendees started to line up at a podium to express varying opinions on the move.

Many proponents of the downtown site argued it would improve business in the area.

“[The UI] has stated on numerous occasions its desire to extend retail [and] residential development south of Burlington,” said Josh Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There will not be a better anchor development opportunity than Hancher.”

But UI Professor Emeritus Daryl Granner said he approves of the West Side site because the UI already owns that land, noting the university would need to buy property for a downtown site.

“It’s unconscionable to suggest that we should spend money on something we already have — a site on the West Side,” he said. “Somebody has to pay for this.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pay for 90 percent of the price at either location; both are estimated cost between $250 million and $270 million. UI officials plan to present their decision to the state Board of Regents by the end of the year. The regents will have the final say.

Glen Patton of Ambrose & Boyd Real Estate presented another option for Hancher’s future. Patton said he has been working with Jeremy Patterson — who specializes in moving buildings — to discuss elevating the complex’s original building and installing parking below it.

Patton added the plan would only cost $20 million, saving the UI roughly $250 million.

“It may be a little late for people to make this decision for Hancher, but there were other buildings damaged by the flood that this could be an option for,” he said.

Iowa City resident Jean Smith said Patton’s idea would be an environmentally friendly alternative.

“My concern is energy when you’re talking about [constructing] new buildings,” she said. “The UI has made a commitment to be green.”

Most of those in attendance, however, were focused on the East and West sites.

One benefit attendees raised for the west site included easier access to parking, while east site supporters favored the location closer to the rest of campus.

Forum moderator Joe Hibbard, a consultant to the UI, said the discussion brought a variety of useful arguments to consider.

“It was good to have a cross section of views,” he said.

UI sophomore Nick Harbeck, a vocal-performance major, was more concerned with the Hancher committee members reaching a quick decision than which site they chose.

“The sites are OK, but they should be moving faster,” he said. “We’re music students, and where we’ve been performing [recently] has just been in a room. It’s not the same as being on stage.”


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