Friday, September 18, 2009

Hancher - Part V

September 18, 2009, 8:10 a.m. -- now with update on October 12 Forum

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

(brought to you by*)

[Blog Entries in Hancher Series (and see, "Hancher Relocation Process and Site," July 18, 2009):

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).

Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part V," September 18, 2009 (Greenways, NIMBY, and Conclusion).]
Update: October 12 Forum; "Third Option"

The October 12 Forum unveiled a "third option" (the prior two involving rebuilding Hancher-Voxman-Clapp as a unit either near where they are now, or downtown): leaving Hancher in the general area of the present site, while splitting off Voxman-Clapp (the music buildings) and putting them downtown. B.A. Morelli, "UI adds another Hancher option; New plan would split auditorium, Voxman-Clapp," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 13, 2009.

For streaming video of the evening, and the Power Point slides used in the opening presentation, see the UI Facilities Management Web site,

Based on the percentage of speakers from the audience (after the presentation) from the music faculty, and the applause they received, that seemed to be the focus of the evening.

I came away from the event thinking that, although they did succeed in making arguments for putting what are essentially undergraduates' "classrooms" nearer the Pentacrest, that most of the analysis in this five-part series remains valid -- the disadvantages of shoe-horning Hancher into an 1839 platted downtown Iowa City, while losing the advantages of its current natural setting (if Hancher would also go downtown), and the discounted-to-present-value future loss of property tax revenue from the downtown businesses that would be demolished (two banks, businesses, two apartment complexes -- at least one of which built only this year), and so forth.

(1) The University of Iowa has never had all of its buildings on a single, continuous area of land, separate and apart from the city -- at least since the 1920s, if not before. The University's buildings are integrated into the downtown, residential and other areas of the city.

(2) We have a number of law students taking joint degrees who take classes on both sides of the River. I am sure the Medical, Pharmaceutical, Nursing, Dental, and Athletic colleges and departments have the same. It would be more convenient for all of them I suppose if we could put all of those buildings downtown. Perhaps Marc Moen could build us a skyscraper for the purpose. And just think of what Kinnick Stadium could do for the local restaurant and bar business if it could also be located downtown!

(3) Walking and biking are good preventive medicine for heart, cancer, diabetes and other diseases -- not to mention our national obesity epidemic. There was talk last evening of music students having to walk a half-mile. A half-mile! When I was in junior high and high school I carried a tuba from home to school and back again, over a mile each way -- a kind of one-man marching band. I never considered it a problem then, and probably would have found it even easier once I had the stamina of a college student. Carrying piccolos and clarinets should be even less of a burden for today's college students. For those who can't, or don't want to, walk, bike or skateboard around campus there are actually too many bus systems for a town this size, plus taxis, and far more student-owned automobiles than are necessary.

Frankly, if I were still studying music I'd love a setting on an "arts campus" with a beautiful view of the River, rather than a parking garage. But I'm not, so my personal preference is irrelevant.

But I do think the music faculty and students ought to reflect upon the old adage "be careful what you wish for, because you may get it." However, the bottom line for me is that if they want to be downtown, and the Regents and FEMA are willing to pay for what they may later discover turns out to be folly, why not let them make the move?

From the standpoint of Hancher, splitting the two (Hancher from Voxman-Clapp) just makes the Hancher reconstruction cheaper, easier and more spacious and scenic.

As for the comparative costs of the three options, they are not sufficiently different to be grounds for selecting one over another at this point. Moreover, they are all pretty fuzzy right now -- everything from construction costs, to parking facilities, to property acquisition (downtown), to demolition and disposal costs, to property tax loss, to the firmness of FEMA's commitment, to sources for $100 million plus of State money (at a time of 10% cuts across the board, and Regents' moratorium on construction).

I do think that the other new proposal the last couple days (and also presented last evening), that Hancher remain exactly where it is and be physically raised to a level above the 500-year flood plain, deserves more analysis than "it's not feasible." "Hancher Idea Could Save $250 Million," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 12, 2009. Of course those putting comments on this story have had great fun with the idea, and I'm certainly not advocating it. But when major moves, and enormous (for us) expenditures are involved, I think any suggestion deserves to be seriously considered and analyzed before being rejected (along with the reasons for that rejection). That even includes the suggestion, at the July Forum, that we consider rebuilding Hancher over the River, with a view up and down stream.

The Original "Hancher - Part V," September 18, 2009, Blog Entry: This is the fifth, and final, blog entry in this five-part series addressing some of the issues I see in the decisions confronting the University of Iowa with regard to what to do, and where to do it, with regard to the replacement of the Hancher-Voxman-Clapp buildings essentially destroyed by the 2008 Iowa River flood.

Monday's essay explored the possible location in downtown Iowa City. Tuesday's addressed the role of natural settings for entertainment venues. Wednesday's looked at a number of categories of direct and indirect costs. And yesterday's questioned the propriety of an academic institution's involvement in the public entertainment business, and complaints about the "distances" in what I characterized as our charming "toy town" (compared with America's largest urban centers). Today's wraps it up with some comments about greenways in flood control, the positions taken by residents close to the old site and businesses that would benefit from a downtown site, and some conclusions. All are linked, above.

(Yesterday's blog entry received two very solid, civil, substantive suggestions. I revised the entry to make reference to the first, which provided some needed data about the academic uses of Hancher Auditorium.

The second took issue with my "overly simplistic . . . dismissal of the handicapped" from an "Anonymous" who has difficulty walking, even with a cane. That was certainly not my intention.Indeed, I commented in that blog entry on my own difficulty in walking. My father was working with Washington agencies regarding those with various disabilities over 50 years ago, and made sensitivity to such issues a part of my very being. As the saying has it, making accommodations for the disabled "is not just a good idea, it's the law" -- thanks in part to some of his early efforts. Obviously, I think the University should make every effort to comply with the law and otherwise address the needs of the disabled with sensitivity. My primary point was that our young, able bodied undergraduates really ought to be able to walk a half-mile or mile, that Iowa City is sufficiently small that it is relatively easy to get from one place on campus to another (certainly when compared with large urban areas), and that therefore it shouldn't be a major factor in choosing a campus location for Hancher. As for the disabled, I was simply intending to make the point that they, too, will have roughly similar difficulties -- or accommodations -- regardless of which of the two locations is chosen.]
Greenways and Flood Control

My understanding is that the original (ultimately flooded in 2008) location of Hancher-Voxman-Clapp was the triumph of "an arts campus" over warnings from some that, however unlikely, to locate the buildings in the Iowa River's flood plain risked those new buildings someday being flooded. Hindsight suggests the location was a mistake. At the time, however, the area had never been flooded in anyone's memory, and the relatively new creation upstream of the Corps of Engineers' Coralville Dam and Reservoir -- created, in part, precisely for the purpose of reducing the severity of downstream flooding -- made that prospect even less likely.

Both before and after the 2008 flood I did some study of and writing about flood control. I created a Web site devoted to the subject (however, one I have not kept updated over time), "GO Iowa! The Great Outdoors of Iowa,", and a PowerPoint presentation (viewable online in Internet Explorer only) I was asked to give to the Johnson County Council of Governments and subsequently other local organizations. I was active with the group that succeeded in passing a $20 million bond issue for the County's acquisition of additional land. Here are some examples of a a number of op ed columns for local papers and blog entries: Nicholas Johnson, "Preserving for Our Grandchildren," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2008; Nicholas Johnson, "Greenbelts, Greenways and Flood Prevention," June 16, 2008 (with links to additional writing); Nicholas Johnson, "Gazette's Flood Plan, Flood Plains & Greenbelts," June 21, 2008; Nicholas Johnson, "A $2.20 Gift to Our Great-Grandchildren," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 30, 2008.

You will be relieved to know that I will not be repeating all of that here this morning, though I will provide my three-point plan for reducing-to-eliminating the economic damage from floods:

1. Don't put homes and businesses in flood plains.

2. Don't put homes and businesses in flood plains.

3. Don't put homes and businesses in flood plains.

The simplicity of these suggestions is exceeded only by the extent to which they are so widely ignored.

By reversing the land use -- taking the parks and forests and grasslands from the hills and putting them down by the rivers, and taking the homes and businesses that line the river bank and putting them up in the hills (or simply having done it right the first time) -- you achieve two major benefits. (a) You eliminate the flood damage to buildings. This is not insignificant, as the University of Iowa's near $1 billion flood damage/rebuilding bill bears witness. (b) You reduce the severity of the flooding -- both at that location and on downstream. "Greenways" along rivers -- forests, parks, grasses, pastures, and other appropriate planting (along with wetlands) -- can absorb, and prevent (or at least slow) the runoff into rivers, of enormous amounts of water. (I've heard estimates of as much as a five-inch rain.)

Conventional buildings, roads and parking lots not only suffer flood damage, they also increase and speed the runoff of water directly into rivers, thereby increasing the severity of the flooding, not only where they are located but also downstream.

Superficially, from a purist perspective, this would suggest that Hancher ("H-V-C") should not only be located downtown, it should be located well east of the location currently contemplated. The land where the buildings now stand should be converted to some form of greenway.

The reason I say "superficially," and refer to "conventional buildings, roads and parking lots," is because there are now construction techniques that can make such structures much more water-absorbent and, shall we say, "flood friendly" than usual.

Indeed, the new P. Sue Beckwith, M.D., Boathouse, built right on the Iowa River bank, was designed with flooding in mind. Rachel Gallegos, "Tour of boathouse shows off building's 'floodable' features," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 17, 2009 ("Associate Director of UI Athletics Jane Meyer said . . . 'We built this building to flood.' . . . [C]oncrete block walls . . . can easily be power washed and sanitized if the building floods . . .. The shell bays have flood vents to easily release water.").

More precisely, roads and parking lots can be made permeable to water, so that at least much of it seeps through to the soil rather than rapidly running off into a river or stream. Strips of soil as a part of a parking lot, planted with grasses or other growth can not only slow and absorb runoff but can be an aesthetic plus as well.

Hopefully, techniques such as these will be used if Hancher is relocated up the slope from where it's now located.

"NIMBY" -- "Not In My Back Yard" and "Oh, Please DO Put it In My Back Yard"

There are two groups of Iowa City residents more directly affected than the rest of us by the decision on where to locate Hancher. One is the Manville Heights residents who live nearby. The other is the downtown business people.

As the resident of a neighborhood that bears a disproportionate share of the impact of the 70,000 visitors who drop in on football Saturdays, I'm sympathetic to the comments of Iowa City residents affected by the University's unilateral decisions.

As near as I can tell, however, the Manville Heights residents' comments seem to cut both ways. Some like the personal convenience of having it close by, an easier walk than if it were downtown. Others are concerned that, by moving it up the hill, out of the flood plain, it will be closer to their homes and create more traffic, noise and possible safety considerations.

Downtown merchants, I gather, are also split to some degree. Those in the restaurant business see the prospect of additional customers before and after Hancher performances if the building is located two or three blocks from their establishments. But many whose businesses are such that they will not benefit financially from the Hancher crowds are concerned about taking so much property off the property tax rolls, thereby increasing their own property taxes. See Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part III," September 16, 2009 (The Costs).

Let me say at the outset that I tend to agree with what I gather is the vision of downtown business persons such as Mark Moen and restaurant genius Jim Mondanaro. That is, Iowa City as laid out in 1839 cannot be turned into a 21st Century Coral Ridge Mall and it's self-defeating to try. See
Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part I," September 14, 2009 (Downtown). What it should aspire to be is a small, very livable, quasi-residential, quaint, walkable, center of entertainment and restaurants (along with the minimal number of banks, grocery stores, and other businesses to sustain that resident population). We may differ about the value of the number of scofflaw bar owners encouraging undergraduates' illegal binge drinking, I don't know. Frankly, I think that phenomenon detracts from, rather than supports, their vision. But we basically agree about the rest of it. And putting Hancher downtown is consistent with that vision -- it's just 170 years too late.

Aesthetically I prefer natural settings for entertainment venues. See Nicholas Johnson, "Hancher - Part II," September 15, 2009 (Natural Settings). But it would be a much closer case for me if it were 170 years ago, and we were just now laying out Iowa City.

I can imagine something more like the area of 10 city blocks than two being devoted to an entertainment complex of movie theaters, a Hancher-sized auditorium, plus a range of theaters and auditoriums such as those we now have in the Englert, Riverside Theater, Mabie, McBride, and others -- plus a large, open, free parking area.

But that's on no one's radar today, and not likely to be, and the current downtown proposal carries with it too many problems.

Bottom line, I do think that those most directly impacted by University or City proposals, whether for good or for ill, deserve to be heard and responded to. That someone has a "special interest" may make their insight and analysis more relevant and useful -- as well as the possibility it makes it simply less well considered and more biased and self-oriented, to the exclusion of the "greater good."

I just don't think public decisions -- whether it's the location of Hancher or the boundary lines around our K-12 schools -- should be dictated by those with special interests in the outcome.

Virgil Hancher

Although I don't think it has any impact on my analysis of where the Hancher replacement is located, I should probably declare my interest in the replacement of the building and its continuing to bear the Hancher name.

Just as Franklin Roosevelt was the only U.S. president there was for most of my youth, similarly Virgil Hancher was the only president of the University of Iowa so far as I was concerned. My impression was that my father liked him and found him supportive of my father's work. I spent some time with Hancher myself as a boy, and found him friendly, as I did his wife, Susan. I attended school for 13 years with his daughter, and knew her older brother. My wife actually lived with the Hanchers in the president's home for some time while a student at Iowa.

As I have written before, I find it troubling that the university colleges and buildings (here and elsewhere) that used to be named for former academics, researchers, and university presidents are now increasingly, during this age of the corporatization of the academy, being named for individual and corporate donors. I think it would be a real travesty, given Hancher's role in the history of the University of Iowa if we were to lose the "Hancher Auditorium" only to replace it with the ExxonMobil Entertainorama, the Coca Cola Center (see, Editorial, "UI's Hypocrisy Clear in Recent Acceptance of ExxonMobil Donation," The Daily Iowan, September 18, 2009), or the "ADM Auditorium." (Want to know more about ADM? "The Informant!" is now showing in Iowa City.)

But this, and undoubtedly other opinions and ideas expressed throughout this five-blog-entry series are undoubtedly influenced with my personal feelings about Virgil Hancher, his family, and his memory, and sufficiently so that I thought I should include this explanation.


This five-part series has been an effort to raise and address issues I see with the decision to rebuild, and relocate, either the Hancher Auditorium or the Hancher-Voxman-Clapp complex.

So in a sense there is no single "answer," or "conclusion," that I think you're obliged to recognize as superior to all others. You may see issues I failed to even see, let alone address. You may differ radically with my analysis of the ones I did identify and address.

But where I come out, to the extent anyone cares, is that relocating the Hancher-Voxman-Clapp complex up the hill from its present location is probably the best option.

Logistically, it just doesn't fit in the available space downtown.

There's a "value added" to having it in a more natural setting.

It's cheaper to have it there.

Aside from those with disabilities, the difficulties imposed on most students in getting to that location are trivial and should not be given decisional significance.

Although it is not the ideal solution from the perspective of greenways and flood control, properly handled it could be and it is, in any event, an improvement over what it was.

The wishes of Manville Heights residents, and downtown merchants, while a relevant part of the mix of community opinion, should not be treated as decisive.

So I guess that's where I come out at the end of this week of blogging on the subject.

What do you think?

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.

September 18, 2009

Daryl Granner, "University Shouldn't Bail Out Iowa City Downtown," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2009.

Sharon McDonald, "UI Should Relocate Hancher Downtown," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2009.

* 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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1 comment:

Nick said...

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