Business

Help wanted developing 44-plus acres of University of Iowa land

UI seeking 'creative, unique development proposals that will produce the highest long-term economic value'

Top-down map view
Top-down map view

IOWA CITY — Imagine if next to the University of Iowa’s “championship level” Finkbine Golf Course and new $10 million clubhouse fit with pro shop, banquet hall, and restaurant sat a high-service boutique hotel, micro conference center, private membership club and even new retail shops and residential housing.

The university wants to hire someone to do that dreaming — and planning and developing and operating — and it issued a call for qualifications last week from private development teams interested in helping re-imagine 44-plus acres of land stretching from Melrose Avenue to the Iowa Northern Railway.

In addition to the largely vacant acreage, the university is seeking proposals for the operation, management, and maintenance of its 18-hole Finkbine Golf Course and its new clubhouse.

In its request for qualifications, the university highlighted additional acreage for possible development — although those areas have current uses, including parking and athletic facilities like the Hawkeye softball complex, and would “need to be addressed with further discussion.”

“The University of Iowa is looking for creative, unique development proposals that will produce the highest long-term economic value to the university, while also serving as an important gateway and attraction to the university campus and community,” according to a UI request for qualifications, which has a response deadline of Aug. 1.

The proposed development site sits in both Iowa City and University Heights jurisdiction, and the university and its neighbors perceive as “important intangible benefits” sustainability, progressive land stewardship, and quality of life, according to the request for qualifications.

The proposal comes as the university struggles to cut costs and find new revenue in response to state funding de-appropriations amounting to nearly $21 million in the last and current budget years.

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UI President Bruce Harreld has pushed tuition increases, instituted a faculty pay freeze until January, and enacted a five-month building moratorium on new construction — which officials have said will affect its new clubhouse project, even though the university received a private $10 million gift to build it.

UI officials last summer unveiled plans to shutter the neighboring 60-year-old University Club and replace it with a hotel, and the institution in October issued a request for information to solicit ideas from private developers interested in collaborating on third-party development of the site.

“The RFI from October only concerned a smaller piece of land that was specifically designated for a hotel,” University Business Manager David Kieft said Wednesday in an email to The Gazette. “The recent request for qualifications asks for specific proposals for using the 44-acres in question, more land than indicated in the RFI, and is open to more possibilities than just a hotel.”

As part of its original plan for the hotel, the university envisioned razing the 33,300-square-foot University Club, which has deferred maintenance concerns — although officials made clear in their more recent request they’re open to suggestions.

“The university is receptive to the creation of a new private social club facility within the overall development area … or the integration of a private social club within the new Finkbine clubhouse,” according to the request. “The university is also open to proposals that have the new management team operating the University Club on an interim basis in the existing or temporary location, while a new facility is being designed and constructed.”

The university’s preference is for a third party to design, develop, build, own or lease, operate, and maintain the mixed-use project that would include a hotel, conference center, membership club, recreational amenities, green space, and possible retail and residential options.

“A residential component could focus on all age ranges, from young professionals to senior living,” according to the UI request. “However, the university is not interested in any student-focused housing in this development.”

In its request, the university reports being open to both “long-term ground leasing and fee-simple sale of land — or a combination.” The proposed development site is on UI land, and thus is zoned “public.”

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“Regardless if the land conveyance is by deed or ground lease, the property, at developer’s expense, will need to go through a formal rezoning process,” according to the request.

The university hasn’t had the area appraised, but officials said they will do that “once we know which specific areas of the overall site interest the developers and the type of land uses they propose.”

In response to the university’s request for information in October, 12 entities submitted a wide range of ideas, suggestions, and comments, Kieft told The Gazette last month. Responses to the recent request for qualifications are due by Aug. 1, and the university then will take a month to review the proposals and shortlist a group of teams to interview, according to Kieft.

Those interviews most likely would take place in September, but the university hasn’t established a firm timeline on when any development would ensue. The anticipated project completion date is fall 2019, Kieft said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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