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Coralville's Iowa Arena taking shape this year, but many details still to be determined

Organizers still scouting for hockey team, first acts

Steel piles stick out of the ground at the site of the Iowa Arena in the Iowa River Landing area of Coralville on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Steel piles stick out of the ground at the site of the Iowa Arena in the Iowa River Landing area of Coralville on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CORALVILLE — Plans for a sizable arena have been years in the making at the Iowa River Landing, and residents will finally see the project begin to take shape in 2019.

The 6,000-seat Iowa Arena and Fieldhouse is scheduled to open in the summer or fall of 2020, but people are “going to start to see the shell of the building come together” this year, said Brian Hixenbaugh, the arena’s general manager. Announcements have yet to be made about naming rights to the facility, whether it will be home to a hockey team or what the first concert might be.

“A lot of our negotiations and talks with promoters have been pretty general. ... It’s been pretty broad, talking about what the building is, what assets we have,” Hixenbaugh said, adding that, with the opening date so far in the future, it’s difficult to determine whether certain acts would be appropriate for the arena’s size. “I think (the first act has) got to be the right fit, too.”

Hixenbaugh works for Spectra Venue Management, which also runs Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines and Tyson Events Center in Sioux City.

While some things are still to be determined, there are many features future arena-goers can plan on. The arena will have an attached Staybridge Suites and facilities for the Iowa Fitness and Sports Performance Institute, the Johnson County Historical Society Museum and the Antique Car Museum of Iowa. The arena also will be the home court for the University of Iowa women’s volleyball team and host amateur and professional sports tournaments.

“We’ll realize a bunch of new opportunities from an athletic standpoint, bringing amateur and professional events in town,” said Josh Schamberger, Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau president, adding that Carver-Hawkeye Arena isn’t air-conditioned for summer athletic events. “Also other activities associated with the arena will provide a new entertainment option for not only residents but certainly visitors.”

The arena is the final anchor tenant of the Iowa River Landing, a 180-acre mixed-use development off Interstate 80 on the main artery into Coralville. The other anchors are retailer Von Maur, grocery store Trader Joe’s and the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

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To get the project off the ground, the city was awarded $12 million in funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Reinvestment District program. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors threw in $200,000 to help support the relocation of the museums after IEDA members said they wanted to see local financial support before awarding the funds. The city of Coralville has guaranteed up to $50 million in loans for the project, and reinvestment in Iowa River Landing has been about $190 million.

Last year, the city formed ArenaCo, a nonprofit community development corporation, to build the arena. To help pay for the project, the city will issue general obligation bonds that will be repaid with future payments from income sources such as tax credits and naming rights.

Coralville’s arena will be the second in the Corridor, joining Cedar Rapids’ U.S. Cellular Center. In 2015, representatives from VenuWorks, which oversees the U.S. Cellular Center, expressed concern over what a nearby arena might mean for Cedar Rapids.

“Two arenas in such proximity?” said Sharon Cummins, then-executive director of VenuWorks in 2015. “Most likely, neither one will realize its full potential.”

Schamberger said he expects some competition for concerts between the two arenas, but he said Coralville’s arena is more sports-focused.

“By in large, I think they’re different projects,” Schamberger said. “But there will be times when we do compete against each other, and I don’t think that will be any different from when Cedar Rapids built a conference center ... when we had one already down here in Coralville. We compete against each other from time to time on business, but by in large I think we’re friends.”

• Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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