Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hancher - Part II

September 15, 2009, 7:15 a.m.

Some Suggestions for Thinking About the Location of
the University of Iowa's New Performance Venue
Part II

(brought to you by FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com*)
[Entries in Hancher Series:

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part I," September 14, 2009 (Downtown).

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part II,"
September 15, 2009 (Natural Settings).

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part III," September 16, 2009 (The Costs).

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part IV," September 17, 2009 (UI's Mission and Mobility).]
As I noted yesterday, Iowa City's residents, downtown merchants, University of Iowa officials -- and ultimately the Board of Regents -- have a decision, or series of decisions, to think through regarding the replacement of "Hancher," the city's largest and most elegant entertainment venue.

Yesterday's blog entry focused on the nature of Iowa City's downtown.

Today we think about the contribution of natural settings to entertainment venues.

I'm guessing this may prove to be a five-day series. The local paper, the Iowa City Press-Citizen, is trying to help with its three-day, three-part series, "The Hancher Decision." Jim Lewers, "Hancher Series Begins Today," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009. The data and various local opinions reflected in its series are linked throughout these blog entries and listed chronologically at the bottom of each day's blog entry.

Future subjects may be the economics of rebuilding Hancher, the rationale for public universities as part of the entertainment industry (football and Broadway road shows), what is "Hancher" (a building or a booking agent), the role of greenbelts in flood control, the arguments of politically powerful actual and potential Hancher neighbors (downtown restaurants, and Manville Heights residents), the distances and logistics of getting around our little toy town, the University of Iowa's commitment to the arts, and the desirability/necessity of keeping the music buildings and Hancher together -- along with anything else that occurs to me throughout the week.

To the extent this exercise in figuring out my own position on these significant local issues is helpful to your own efforts to think through the issues you're welcome to it.

Entertainment Venues in Natural Settings
A number of people have commented about the "setting" of Hancher, with its spacious, large grassy area, and its proximity to the City Park and the Iowa River. This is not an inconsequential consideration. (Photo credit: University of Iowa Facilities Management.)

That's not to say there aren't a goodly number of urban, "downtown," entertainment venues of some fame and financial success -- among them Madison Square Garden, at 34th and 7th Avenue in downtown Manhattan.

But the fact is that audiences seem to be attracted to outdoor venues, or those in natural settings, as well. Here are a number, each of which I've visited many times. The Hollywood Bowl ("the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the United States" across the 101 from Griffith Park), offers picnicking in the Hollywood hills before the show and is one of the most popular venues in the Los Angeles area. (Photo credit: Erin74.)



For over 100 years Coloradans have thought the 15 mile drive west from Denver to "Red Rocks" well worth it for performances -- and so have the musicians. This "geologically formed, open-air Amphitheatre is not duplicated anywhere in the world. . . . [It] consists of two, three hundred-foot monoliths (Ship Rock and Creation Rock) that provide acoustic perfection for any performance." (Text credit: Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre.)




Though not quite as striking a setting as Red Rocks in the Rocky Mountains, "Wolf Trap," in Vienna, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., is somewhat similar to the Hollywood Bowl in its setting and seating. (Photo credit: Robert Llewellyn.)

Hancher's enthusiastic new programming director, Jacob Yarrow, who hasn't yet been on the job for a full month, has been running a venue somewhat similar to Wolf Trap. He was formerly "the executive director for six years at the Garth Newel Music Center in Warm Springs, Va., a few hours outside of Washington, D.C. The venue, which draws its visitors from nearby cities, is situated on a mountainside farm in a rural county with fewer than 5,000 people and no stoplights, Yarrow said." Josh O'Leary, "Yarrow Ready for Hancher Rebuilding," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009.

But of all the Washington area venues the Kennedy Center probably comes closest to what Hancher has to offer, located as it is along the Potomac River, with great views up and down the River and across to the wooded Virginia side (click here for a 360-degree view from the Kennedy terrace). (Photo credit: The Kennedy Center.)

I don't mean to equate Hancher along the Iowa River with the Kennedy Center on the banks of the Potomac, let alone a setting in the Colorado Rockies. Moreover, this picture was taken from the fourth floor of the Boyd Law Building, not the Hancher Auditorium, and during the 2008 flood at that. But it does show the original Hancher building (and Levitt Center for University Advancement) in the distance, and provides some sense of the Iowa River (for any reading this who are not familiar with Iowa City). (Photo credit: Me.)

So what's the point of this discussion? Simply that many performers, audience members, those who design or pay to build entertainment venues, not only in Iowa City but around the country and the world, seem to believe there is some "value added" to locating them in natural settings rather than the heart of downtown, urban centers. We would not be unreasonable to prefer such settings ourselves.

The Press-Citizen's Series

[See also the University of Iowa Facilities Management Web page regarding its July 9, 2009, presentation to the community about these issues. It includes links to a streaming video of the evening, the Power Point slides used on that occasion, and the Flood Mitigation Task Force Recommendations. "Facilities Managment/Projects." My own evaluation of that evening is found in Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher Relocation Process and Site; University Offers Useful Model for Major Decisions," July 10, 2009.]

Jim Lewers, "Hancher Series Begins Today," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Editorial, "Choose Between Two Good Options for Hancher," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Chuck Swanson, "Either Site Will Work for Hancher," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Wallace Chappell, "Time to Divorce Hancher and the River," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Bob Hibbs, "Performance Spaces on the UI Campus," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli and Josh O'Leary, "What To Do About Hancher Auditorium," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli and Josh O'Leary, "Is Moving Hancher Downtown a Game Changer?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli, "Regents to Have Final Say in Hancher's Location," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

"UI Flood Recovery Mostly Covered By FEMA Money," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli, "UI, Hancher May Get More FEMA Money," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Brian Morelli, "Officials Didn't See Flooding to Be Potential Problem," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Deanna Howard, "A man for the arts; Virgil Hancher envisioned an arts campus on the river," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

Rob Daniel, "New Stores Help Fill Coralridge Mall," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2009.

September 13

Josh O'Leary and Brian Morelli, "UI Weighs Options for Hancher Flooded Site," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009.

Josh O'Leary, "Yarrow Ready for Hancher Rebuilding," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009.

Josh O'Leary, "Proximity Key to Hancher's Neighbors," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009.

"Learn More About Coralville Arts Center," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2009 ("This 500-seat community venue . . . will be available for use beginning in the spring of 2011 . . . by community groups for recitals, concerts, lectures, theater and other performances").

September 14

Bruce Wheaton, "The 'H,' 'V' and 'C' in 'HVC,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009.

Marc Moen, "Benefits of Urban Auditoriums," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009 (with link to Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, "The Benefits and Qualities of Cultural Districts") .

Brian Morelli and Deanna Howard, "As Venue's Revenue Losses Mount, Public Split; One Site's Weaknesses Are the Other's Strengths, Official Says," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009.

Brian Morelli, "Who Will Make Site Selection?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009.

"Culver Hopeful UI Will Get more Federal Funds; FEMA Head to Tour Campus' Flood Sites in Next Two Months," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2009.
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* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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