116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — University of Iowa planners this week promised residents of the historic Manville Heights neighborhood not to replace a quaint former marching band field with a busy student-focused high rise — or morph it into a shopping hub or home to a warehouse.
Rather, they shared a vision for a development that’s “residential in character,” low-rise — like two stories — and “fits in with the community and with the neighborhood,” UI Business Manager David Kieft told over 80 residents who met Wednesday evening for a discussion on the field’s future.
Kieft, who is also the University Real Estate director, and Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz recently sent letters to neighbors of the field — sitting just west of Hancher Auditorium in one of Iowa City’s oldest and most storied neighborhoods — alerting them of plans to pursue “creative development concepts that bring both economic and aesthetic value to the university community.”
They invited neighbors to participate in that process, starting with Wednesday’s meeting — at which residents voiced an array of ideas and concerns ranging from increased traffic, parking congestion, property tax implications, lost trees and the speed at which the UI plans to proceed.
Kieft said the university hopes to issue a request for proposals or qualifications from possible development teams next month, to which one woman said, “that is way too soon.”
In justifying the UI’s move to re-purpose the space to raise revenue, Kieft and Lehnertz cited a recent Board of Regents directive to “sell or generate revenue from UI properties not central to the delivery of primary institutional missions of teaching, research, and health care.”
That, they said, includes spaces like the former marching band practice field — which has gone unused since 2014 when the Hawkeye Marching Band relocated to a new Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex.
Despite the former practice field’s vacancy, Lehnertz said the UI still spends between $40,000 and $45,000 a year on things like mowing and snow removal — a drain on an ever-tightening university budget.
“We should either be ridding ourselves of it or garnering revenue from it to help toward the missions of the institution,” Lehnertz said.
But simply selling the property would strip away any control the UI and the neighbors might have in shaping what emerges, according to Kieft.
“If we were to list it for sale or sell it at an auction, in which case highest bidder wins, we lose control,” he said. “You all lose control of what happens in that case. … It’s whoever has the most cash and has secured credit to be able to provide that gets the property.”
The UI is more likely to pursue something similar to the development underway on the site of the former University Club, near Finkbine Golf Course along Melrose Avenue. After issuing a request for qualifications in 2018 for development teams interested in re-imagining a swath of 44 acres, the university recently entered a first-phase deal involving a 30-year ground lease that will generate revenue and keep the land under state auspices.
That project — aiming to erect a four-story, 110-unit rental project for 55-and-older residents — is multi-staged and complex, involving both Iowa City and University Heights. Like with that space that spans multiple sites, UI officials Wednesday said they hope to redevelop more than just the former band field.
They’re considering development of a 7.8-acre space that includes not just the former practice field but the unused Parklawn Residence Hall to the west.
“That is a residence hall that is now vacant,” Kieft said. “And our residence hall system is not interested in maintaining that as a residence hall. It was our least favorite site for students.”
The university — not just the regents — aspires to find a better use of its resources and space. The goal, Lehnertz said, is to make sure “the moneys that we have at the university and the dwindling state support aren't coming at the expense of excellence and our missions of teaching and research.”
The planners said they’re listening with open ears and minds to ideas from neighbors. Suggestions from the neighbors included tapping an outside professional to help plan for the space; allowing the neighborhood to invest in keeping it green; reserving at least some of the park if it must be redeveloped; donating the land to the city to drop the maintenance costs; creating senior living; or erecting entry-level or affordable housing.
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