116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A short walk up Park Road from the University of Iowa’s imposing Hancher Auditorium sits a small patch of green space formerly used as the Hawkeye Marching Band’s practice field.
The field fell silent in 2014 when the university debuted a new outdoor field, indoor turf and support facilities for the Hawkeye Marching Band as part of its west-side Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex.
And now the university is looking to develop that vacant green space that’s tucked in the century-old Manville Heights neighborhood, nestled among historic homes and landscaping.
In a recent letter to about 52 homes in the two-block vicinity, UI officials alerted neighbors they’re in the “early stages of developing the former marching band practice field on Park Road, along with some adjoining property.”
They didn’t elaborate on the location and size of the “adjoining property” but said the UI is planning to seek proposals from third-party architects or development teams in mid-September.
“Given its adjacency to Hancher Auditorium and the arts campus, the university will be looking for creative development concepts that bring both economic and aesthetic value to the university community,” according to the letter signed by Rod Lehnertz, senior vice president for finance and operations and university architect; David Kieft, university business manager and director of university real estate; and Adele Vanarsdale, university planner and architect.
The letter invited recipients to an Aug. 25 “introductory neighborhood meeting, where university representatives will give further background on the location, planning, schedule, and expectations for future development.”
If you go:
Who: Neighbors nearest or adjacent the site
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday Aug. 25
Where: Art Building West auditorium (Room 240), 141 N. Riverside Drive.
In justifying its move toward development, UI officials cited a Board of Regents directive “to sell or generate revenue from UI properties not central to the delivery of primary institutional missions of teaching, researc, and health care.”
“The site does not offer academic or research development opportunities due to its distance from central campus, but its location does serve as an important gateway to campus,” according to the letter. “We recognize that some of you may enjoy the site in its current form, but continuing to maintain the property incurs ongoing costs and is at odds with a Board of Regents, state of Iowa directive.”
The board issued that directive earlier this year out of an advisory group formed in light of the pandemic and the threat it posed to the campuses and their bottom lines.
The advisory group made five recommendations, including one directing university presidents to “explore additional resource opportunities to support mission-critical operations or to serve the public good.”
Such opportunities, according to the recommendation, could include recruiting “angel investors for economic development” or considering “property sales where not in conflict with academic or research needs.”
The goal of the Park Road development, according to the letter to neighbors, is to work with them to create a “residential-style development that will blend with the community and the Manville Heights neighborhood.”
Community input, officials said, will help UI craft developer solicitation documents.
“We will be asking a few representative members of the neighborhood to be part of the development selection team and process,” according to the letter.
The upcoming meeting will involve an overview presentation and then open dialogue.
Given that the UI is in the very early stages of exploring its options, it hasn’t made a formal request to the Board of Regents, according to UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett. The board, however, is aware the UI has started the process, she said.
Another ‘important gateway’ project
The university four years ago embarked on a similar inquiry into re-imagining and redeveloping a larger swath of 44 acres west of campus — along Melrose Avenue encompassing the former University Athletic Club.
In May 2018, the university issued a call for qualifications from development teams interesting in a project that could involve a boutique hotel, micro-conference center, retail shops, or residential housing.
That call, according to board documents, compelled “many” responses.
And earlier this year, the UI entered a first-phase deal involving a 30-year ground lease allowing Melrose Partners LP to develop 6.12 acres just southeast of Finkbine Golf Course — formerly home to the University Athletic Club.
Under the deal, a joint venture will erect a four-story, 110-unit rental project for 55-and-up residents, according to a UI proposal that also characterized the site as “an important gateway to the university campus.”
Per the lease agreement, the UI will get $130,000 in rent a year, escalating 10 percent every five years, according to Board of Regents documents.
Developers must obtain private financing to build, own and operate the facility. If, at the end of the 30-year lease developers don’t want to extend it, the building reverts to UI ownership.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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