Moen developments on the rise in Iowa City

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | MAY 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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When much of the University of Iowa community returns to Iowa City in the fall, students will be met with a slew of changes to downtown, led predominantly by the real-estate development company Moen Group.

And although some local groups have mobilized against the developments, the paths of three projects, including the 14-story Park@201 and the proposed high rise Chauncey will march on.

Packing & Provision Co. Building

Once the home of a JC Penney department store and later a rowdy college-town bar, the renovations on the Pedestrian Mall’s Packing & Provision Co. building, 118 E. College St., are now nearly complete. Today, its tenants include women’s boutique Velvet Coat and Modus Engineering.

Come September, lead developer Marc Moen said, the structure will also see an 85-seat FilmScene cinema, a 49-person “green” roof terrace, and a potential 800-square-foot urban art gallery.

Steven Vail, the owner of the Des Moines-based Steven Vail Fine Arts gallery, told The Daily Iowan Thursday that negotiations for an Iowa City location are in the works. The art gallery would occupy a first-floor retail space next to Velvet Coat.

Moen said the grand idea is to have FilmScene collaborate with the gallery.

“The type of art gallery we want to do does not exist [downtown] at this time,” he said. “If it was an Andy Warhol show exhibit, it’d be great to have a movie about Andy Warhol’s life. That’s the last piece of the puzzle.”

Jon Fogarty, a member of the Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow — a group opposing the development of the Chauncey — cried foul about the Moen Group’s recent tax-increment financing expenditures, calling it a “crutch for local governments.”

“With the old Vito’s space, we’re subsidizing building a theater there that we will be replicating,” he said. “I would love for anybody to explain it to the taxpayers of Iowa City.”

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After Packing & Provision Co. building renovations are complete, the anticipated Dec. 1 opening of the 14-story Park@201 building, 114 S. Dubuque St., will bring a total of $13 million in new investment to downtown.

The glass building similar to the company’s Plaza Towers building will feature a two-floor full-service Buzz Salon, 7,000 square feet of “Class A” office space on the second through fourth floors, and residential units on floors five through 14. Since Jan. 22, when 10 of the 26 housing units were sold, today, only 10 remain. Despite multiple office space inquiries, Moen said no official leases have been signed. He said the building is expected to cap off in August.

Ritu Jain, the owner of Textiles, 109 S. Dubuque St., said looking out onto the new building from her Pedestrian Mall store demonstrates the interest in downtown, among students, young families, and particularly, developers. That interest, she said, provides dividends for her business.

For City Councilor Jim Throgmorton, however, construction relating to Park@201 reminds him of the evening he and the City Council approved the public funding for the building.

“I think I made two mistakes when I voted for [it],” he said. “It’s going to be taller than it should be … two to three stories out of scale, and we should’ve given the public more time to express their views. We gave them no time.”

He cautioned that the future of downtown should not be “monopolized” by a single developer, regardless of building history and reputation.

“If you change it too fast in one direction, then it will become something rather dramatically different, and I don’t think that’s wise,” he said. “Then it becomes not just our downtown, but one person’s vision for downtown.”

The Chauncey

After months of back-and-forth discussions with a number of local and national developers, the City Council selected on a 5-1 vote, the $53 million, 20-story Chauncey as its preferred development choice on Jan. 8.

Despite arguably the most significant public backlash, the project remains on track to be developed at the city-owned northeast corner of College and Gilbert Streets.

The tower will include 12 bowling lanes, a café, art gallery, two FilmScene theaters, a 35-unit boutique hotel, residential units, an outdoor movie screen, and parking.

“We’re just staying on that course, and there’s just going to be a lot of controversy going into it,” Moen said. “I get the controversy, but we’re doing what every developer does. You pick the [request for proposals] you can respond appropriately, and when you do that, you’d better be serious about that, because it’s expensive.”

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