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Hancher seats find new home

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | JULY 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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The days are numbered for the University of Iowa’s former Hancher/Voxmann/Clapp complex as work pushes forward at the sites of the two replacement facilities.

By the year’s end, the structure that sits near the Iowa River on the Arts Campus should be demolished, UI officials say.

But when the 1970s-era, now-vacant structure finally comes down in favor of nearly $400 million combined replacements, a few memorable and functioning pieces will be spared from the wrecking ball.

Ninety red-cushion former theater chairs from Hancher’s once 2,500-seat capacity have found a new home.

But the 19-year-old pieces didn’t have to be wrapped up and shipped across the country or around the world.

They’re staying right here in Iowa City.

In line with their soon-to-open FilmScene Scene 1 cinema downtown, cofounders Andrew Sherburne and Andy Brodie were able to snag the seats from destruction after negotiating with the University of Iowa’s demolition contractor, Peterson Contractors Inc.

Brodie said the floods of 2008 signaled a unique opportunity for the start-up film group.

“Any thing bolted down to the floor was up to the discretion of the contractor,” he said. “They could’ve said no we’re going to throw them away, and you have to buy some new ones.”

Because the floods of 2008 didn’t inundate the theater space inside Hancher, Brodie said the only true maintenance work that is expected of to the seats is dusting.

And although FilmScene originally looked to secure 100 seats in addition to old, barely used 35-mm film equipment, Brodie said they are content with the final result. He anticipates new, low-grade seats would’ve cost at least $150 each.

“To keep them in the community is kind of a neat reuse story,” he said.

With a projected September opening date looming, Brodie said the minute details of the 85-seat cinema remain to be hashed out.

The group is mulling numerous options from in-seat cup holders and couches to the costs of the in-house café items and the hours of operations.

So what’s for certain?

To start, the new cinema will be open seven days a week, 365 days a year, complete with the latest 3D technology on a 20-foot wide by 10-foot tall screen. The building’s second-floor rooftop terrace will also play host to late-night outdoor screenings. 

Patrons will be able to snag snacks and drinks above the mainstream multiplex standards.

“Drinks will be in line with what you’re used to having downtown,” Brodie said. “But we’ll have a little nicer beer … “We’re not trying to do bottomless mug night.”

For Hancher Executive Director Charles Swanson, FilmScene’s efforts at maintaining a piece of UI history and maintaining it in the arts community is an approach the UI should move to on a comprehensive scale. He said similar efforts at the university level could help reach the 2020 sustainability initiatives.

“I think anytime the life of something can be carried on, it’s the approach we should take,” he said.

Although the local area is missing a “big stage,” Swanson applauded the group’s efforts and said he doesn’t foresee competition arising among the arts venues.

Marc Moen, the Moen Group developer and owner of the Packing & Provision Co. Building, 118 E. College St., said the recycling of the seats complete the roughly $1.6 million historic renovation of the building.

“This is one of the most rewarding projects we have been involved in,” he said in a Monday release. “A decaying historic building has been restored and repurposed into vital retail, entertainment and office uses.”


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