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City Council approves high-rise plans

BY REBECCA MORIN | SEPTEMBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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As several high-rise projects are underway in Downtown Iowa City, another contender has stepped forward with high intentions — and may be in the works to start planning.

With a quick 7-0 vote, the Iowa City City Council approved an offer of a purchase of the city-owned land on South Dubuque Street.

All members of the council deferred comments, and no public discussion was offered.

Hieronymus Square Associates, which is composed of several local developers, has submitted a $670,000 offer to purchase long-vacant property on the southern perimeter of downtown.

Kevin Digmann, a partner in Hieronymus Square Associates and the general manager for the Old Capitol Town Center, has not return phone calls or emails since Sunday. Repeated attempts Tuesday also resulted in no contact.

Because the property in question is located in the City-University Project and Urban Renewal Area, the city is required to seek competing proposals prior to accepting the offer.

The city-owned land, located north of the Court Street Transportation Center, 301 S. Dubuque St., is an area in which city officials would like to see future growth, such as a new 12-story dual hotel project, as well as the University of Iowa’s new School of Music complex. Both projects are slated for completion in the next few years.

The motion of approval comes in light of a public statement by local advocacy group, the Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow on Tuesday.

The group, that has continually spoken out against a proposal to construct Iowa City’s tallest building appears to be taking a different approach to one new building expected shape the city’s growing skyline.

Citing changes to Iowa City’s Comprehensive Plan and binding changes to surrounding neighborhoods, the Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow has continually spoken out against developer Marc Moen’s $53 million, 20-story Chauncey proposal.

That fight over that controversial high-rise to be built on city-owned land at the intersection of College and Gilbert Streets has become a main topic among city officials, business leaders, and residents in recent months.

“A lot of people have incorrectly assumed that [Coalition Against the Shadow] opposes all high-rise commercial development,” group co-head Rockne Cole said in the statement. “We oppose the Chauncey development because it fails to comply with the comprehensive plan, blocks solar access for Trinity Church’s efforts to become more energy efficient, and places significant stress on the College Green historic neighborhood.”

In a June 12 interview with The Daily Iowan, Cole pointed out that all city-planning documents that he has combed over have indicated that commercial development should take place south of Burlington.

“If this is such a great building and it’s going to draw such a great density, it needs to be built south of Burlington,” Cole said.

But today, the group stressed the need for further project details by Hieronymus Square Associates.

“In contrast to our opposition to Chauncey Tower, we likely will remain neutral to any proposed high-rise development at the proposed Burlington/Clinton development, and in fact, may publicly support it once additional details are known.

One downtown developer said downtown projects such as this one encourage more construction and urban development.

“Overall, it is a very exciting time for downtown Iowa City,” said developer Marc Moen, the owner of Moen Group, in an email. “We need to be vigilant in preserving our historic buildings, but there are sites appropriate for new development such as the Hieronymus property at the S.E. corner of Clinton & Burlington.”  

In addition, Moen said, the “mix of historic and contemporary buildings are key to the continued growth and vibrancy of downtown” because “it helps to attract a diverse group of people to live, shop and recreate downtown.”

As development in the downtown area and the Riverfront Crossing area continues, several businesses have voiced their support for a new high rise in the Riverfront Crossing area.

Jeff Davidson, the director of the city’s Planning & Community Development Department, said a proposed high-rise building fits in with the city’s desired Riverfront Crossings District.

Davidson, who was present at the meeting, did not elaborate on the project or the city’s input further.

“The Downtown/Riverfront Crossings Master Plan which the City Council has adopted does contemplate a high-rise building at this location,” he said in an email on Sunday. “However, there is no specific development proposal at this time.”

The offer considers the property would be redeveloped in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Mod Pod real estate property, which is adjacent to the property up for consideration.

“We are simply trying to add the city’s parcel to the Mod Pod parcel so that such a building could be possible,” Davidson said in the email. “Right now, neither parcel could be developed as contemplated by the plan — only if they are combined.”

Some local businesses encourage the growth in the Riverfront Crossing area.

“I think anything leads to business, especially south of East Burlington, is great for Iowa City,” Lynn Rowat, West Bank’s Eastern Iowa market president. “I think with our proximity and with all the tenants, it will be great for West Bank.”


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