Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our View - UI chooses the split-baby option for HVC complex

Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. 15, 2010.

When people try to split the difference between two options, they often talk about the "wisdom of Solomon." But they usually forget that the biblical king never actually split anything when deciding the case before him. When Solomon offered to split a baby down the middle to resolve a custody dispute, he knew that the real mother would renounce all claims rather than see the child hurt. He then gave the still-intact child to the woman who was ready to make a sacrifice.

When it comes to deciding where to relocate the Hancher-Voxman-Clapp complex (HVC), University of Iowa officials announced Thursday they actually want to go through with splitting the baby -- separating the H from the VC.

For nearly a year, UI officials have been wavering between what we consider two equally good options for relocating the flood-destroyed complex of buildings:

• Moving the facility just up the hill and out of the floodplain from its present location (which would please Hancher's out-of-area and older patrons who want to avoid getting caught up in downtown traffic and safety issues) or

• Moving the facility closer downtown (which would open up a number of possibilities for downtown and near downtown development).

A few months ago, UI officials threw the community for a loop when they announced a third option: Separating the facilities and relocating the Hancher portion close to its current location while moving the School of Music and its performance space to the downtown site.

We can understand why UI officials like the split-baby option. After all, it addresses 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. At the same time, it ensures Hancher Auditorium will be built on land the university already owns -- meaning that reconstruction wouldn't be contingent on the sometimes lengthy process of buying out private landowners.

The split-baby option became feasible only after UI began drawing up plans for what the combined HVC would look like at the downtown site. That's when they found that the facilities -- while part of the same complex -- still would need to be slightly separated. They then asked and received assurance that FEMA would be open to separating the facilities by a longer distance.

Obviously, the benefits of the split baby option have become more and more apparent to UI officials in the past weeks -- especially after one of the downtown property owners indicated he would be reluctant to sell. And if the Iowa state Board of Regents agrees with the UI recommendation and approves the splitting of the H from the VC, then hopefully the university can move forward without needing to threaten or to use eminent domain.

Downtown boosters, understandably, aren't very excited about the option of placing only the School of Music and its recital hall downtown. They've been dreaming a long time about the economic development opportunities that would follow building a more urban university auditorium. That's why, if UI officials are not going to move Hancher downtown, they at least should develop programming at the new Clapp that would help broaden the cultural opportunities in the downtown area -- programming that will help draw in an evening population very different than the current bar-goers.

It'll take a generation, however, to know if UI officials are displaying the wisdom of Solomon with this decision, or if they're merely pleasing no one by trying to please everyone.

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