Iowa City City Council Votes 5-1 in Favor for 'The Chauncey' Project as Final College/Gilbert Proposal

The final vote is in with all of the councilors except Jim Throgmorton supporting the Chauncey project for the property on the corner of Gilbert and College. Public comment toward the proposal was mostly negative.

The votes are in and Iowa City City Council has chosen The Chauncey, with developer Marc Moen, as its preferred plan for the property at the intersection of College and Gilbert Streets.

The property is currently occupied by the Iowa City Bike Library (in what was formerly John Wilson's Sports) and an empty lot (that was formerly a bus terminal.) The Chauncey was chosen as the preferred selection out of nine original developer proposals for the coveted downtown spot.

The final vote is in 5-1 in favor of The Chauncey project with Chauncey Gardens as the first-alternate developer. Council member Jim Throgmorton voted no, calling the choice "a mistake." Council member Michelle Payne abstained.

Comments from the public were mostly negative, as various commenters called The Chauncey too tall, too big, too costly-- out of sorts with the rest of the area. A parishoner at nearby Trinity Episcopal Church echoed a concern others have made about the shadow of a 20-story building affecting their light, and referred to The Chauncey, in a gentle English accent, "as a carbuncle on the face of a well loved friend."

With the friend, in this case, being Iowa City.

Throgmorton echoed their concerns, also saying that he disagreed with employing Marc Moen on another downtown high rise project as the aesthetic could come to dominate the area.

"I think there is such a thing as too much." Throgmorton said.

Throgmorton's order for the final three was the reverse of the other councilors, with 4 Zero 4 his number one pick due to its goals for sustainability, its relatively modest size, and the work developers had done to build connections within the existing community, among them the New Pioneer Co-Op.

Council member Susan Mims said that she supported the project because of all the variety of new opportunities and people it will be able to bring the downtown. She said the shadow issue did not concern her as much as she thought it would, as all of the building projects produced similar shadows when building out instead of up was factored in.

Council member Connie Champion concurred, saying that she was excited about the building's potential.

"I think people are really going to love it once it's up," Champion said.

Mayor Hayek also supported the Chauncey, with the caveat that nothing has been set in stone yet and the city still should negotiate strongly for favorable financial conditions and sustainability for the building. He also noted that with five out of six council members agreeing on The Chauncey, they had reached a "remarkable amount of consensus" for such a project.

Rick Dobyns, a longtime advocate of alternatives to the downtown drinking scene, lauded The Chauncey's offerings for students, mentioning the support from the project from the University of Iowa Student Government.

Several council members encouraged the developers to return with their ideas, especially for the gradually developing Riverfront Crossings project to the south. 4 Zero 4 was lauded by Dobyns and Hayek for their ideas on sustainability and encouraged in particular to try again.

The Chauncey project is set to cost $53.8 million to construct, and the developers have said they will need about $13.45 million in tax increment financing from the city of Iowa City to fund the project. From the Gazette story:

Here's the original proposal for the Chauncey:

This proposal is for a 20-story building including two movie theaters operated by FilmScene, a bowling alley and cafe on the first floor, three floors of office space, a 35-unit hotel, and 12 floors of studio, one- and two- bedroom residential units.

This proposal is for a mixed-use facility with a target of 20% minimum of the residential units being available for workforce housing. The proposal includes upgrading Chauncey Swan Park. Steve Rohrbach is the primary contact for this proposal.

Here's a link to story with descriptions of the final three proposals.

Andy Brodie, co-founder of Iowa City FilmScene, said that he was excited that the organization can finally plan for its eventual destination for a community based art house film scene.

"It's going to be nice to see cinema raised in terms of respect to the level of the other arts in Iowa City," Brodie said. "These types of movie theaters are having success all over the country, and I'm glad to see that Iowa City can be a leader in the state and in the region."

Brodie also noted that the combination of a bowling alley and movie theater could be a perfect combination for "Big Lebowski" enthusiasts.

"We're excited to have our first Lebowski Fest," Brodie said, laughing.

In the meantime, Brodie said FilmScene intends to operate its cinemas out of also by Moen. He said the plan is to operate out of that space while the Chauncey is built, and then to leave those theaters for use by other organizations when they relocate.

Earlier the Council Reached a Consensus During Its Work Session

During the Iowa City City Council's work session, five out of six council members put their support behind the Marc Moen backed "The Chauncey" project, citing the new opportunities it could bring to the downtown and the potential financial benefit to the city.

The building will be erected at the intersection of College and Gilbert Streets, which is the current location of the Iowa City Bike Library.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said that the Chauncey had two politically difficult elements: one is it involved the city working with developer Moen yet again, and two it did not include the New Pioneer Co-Op in its plans, as 4 Zero 4 and Chauncey Gardens did.

In the end, though, Hayek said he thought the value of the building should be looked at separate from these considerations.

"We are looking at a building that will hopefully last a century," Hayek said. "I just don't think we can make a decision based on one particular use."

Council member Jim Throgmorton was the only detractor of the Chauncey, calling the selection of the Chauncey "a mistake." He preferred the 4 Zero 4 project for its more diminutive size, its focus on sustainability, and ties to "existing community groups."

The height and mass of the Chauncey was what appeared to be the main sticking point for Throgmorton.

"Virtually all the public testimony we received stressed concern about the mass and height of the proposals," he said.

Council member Michelle Payne did not join in the discussion due to a potential conflict of interest.


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