Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Oct. 17, 2009
Our View - Hancher, Voxman, Clapp don't need to stay together
University of Iowa officials threw the community for a loop during Monday's public forum when they announced a third option for relocating the flood-damaged Hancher-Voxman-Clapp (HVC) complex.
For the past two months now, the community has been debating the relative merits and challenges of the two relocation sites that UI officials unveiled in the August public forum:
• Just up the hill -- and out of the river floodplain -- from the location of the complex. (A location, in hindsight, we all wish UI officials, hydrologists and engineers would have suggested building the structure on back in the 1960s.)
• A two-block stretch of land on the south end of the Iowa City downtown. (A location that has city planners and downtown boosters dreaming about the cultural and economic development opportunities.)
Last month we opined that UI officials basically were facing a choice between two equally good options. We urged them to move quickly to choose one and then allow the community to respond. (Many Hancher supporters worry that the longer UI officials wait to make a decision about a new auditorium, the more difficult it becomes for Hancher staff to keep in touch with the patrons and the donors who help keep the vision alive.)
But the third option presented Monday -- separating the facilities by keeping Hancher close to the current complex and relocating Voxman-Clapp near the downtown -- is worthy of more study and scrutiny. The option would address the concerns of the many music faculty and students who have felt isolated on the arts campus and who prefer being closer to the heart of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And Hancher Auditorium would be built on land the university already owns, so its reconstruction wouldn't be contingent on the sometimes lengthy process of buying out private landowners.
The third option became feasible only recently because FEMA had viewed the HVC complex as a one complex and UI officials had been evaluating sites with that restriction in mind. When UI began drawing up plans for what the combined HVC would look like at the downtown site, they found that the facilities -- while part of the same complex -- still would be slightly separated. They then asked and received assurance that FEMA also would be open to separating the facilities by a longer distance.
UI officials say adding the extra option shouldn't extend the timeline for making a decision -- the pace is being set, in part, by having to gain approval both from the Iowa state Board of Regents and from FEMA. If things continue to fall together, UI officials should have a final decision made by the end of the year.
Downtown boosters aren't as excited about the option of placing only the School of Music and its recital hall downtown. They are still dreaming of the economic development opportunities that would follow building a more urban university auditorium. But building the V and the C would still represent a major investment in the downtown. And the concerts would help broaden the cultural opportunities in the area and hopefully draw in a population very different than the current bar-goers.
The third option just might be the compromise that benefits the most people.