Iowa City Picks 20-Story Building for Downtown Site

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa City has picked a familiar face to construct a $53.8 million high-rise building on the edge of downtown.

The City Council Tuesday night voted to enter into negotiations with Marc Moen to bring his "The Chauncey" project to city-owned land at the northeast corner of College and Gilbert streets.

Moen is proposing a 20-story building with two movie theaters, a bowling alley and cafe on the first floor, two floors of office space, a 35-room hotel and 12 floors of residential units. His project won out over two other finalists.

"I love the possibility of this building. ... It brings us some new things," council member Connie Champion said.

Five of six council members picked Moen's team as the preferred developer for the site, and city staff will now negotiate a development agreement. The council indicated its second choice, should those negotiations fail, was a project known as Chauncey Gardens, a $48 million, 18-story building.

The third project under consideration was a $33 million, nine-story building from 4 Zero 4 Development.

The council majority cited the bowling alley and movie theater as things they liked in Moen's project. The downtown lacks those features now, and council members said they would be popular with college students.

The hotel rooms, and the hotel/motel tax they would generate for the city, were another bonus.

Moen also has undertaken large downtown projects before, including Plaza Towers, Vogel House and a 14-story building currently under construction.

Mayor Matt Hayek said he expected to hear criticism about the city working with Moen again. But each project should be considered on its own merits, he said.

"That political factor is something I was able to compartmentalize," he said.

Moen's request for financial assistance from the city likely will draw criticism, too. All of the finalists asked for millions of dollars in tax increment financing, but The Chauncey is seeking the most at $13.45 million.

Council members said they'd take a hard look at that amount. Moen said that is the figure needed to complete the project based on the current cost estimate, but the numbers will be refined now that the project is taking a step forward.

Moen expects negotiations to take up to a year and will include MidAmerican Energy, which has a substation at the site. Council member Michelle Payne works for MidAmerican and abstained from council discussions and the vote.

An exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration would be needed to exceed height restrictions in place because of the Iowa City Municipal Airport.

The size of the building also has drawn objections from some residents, but Moen said they've tried for a community-friendly design.

"I think it's always exciting to push the envelope," he said.

Moen said construction could take two years, but that's still to be determined.

Jim Throgmorton cast the dissenting vote. He preferred 4 Zero 4 and its smaller size, emphasis on sustainability and housing prices that he thinks would be more affordable to young professionals.

The council's second and third choices had New Pioneer Co-op in their buildings, and co-op supporters lobbied the city to pick a project that included them.

Martha Norbeck of Iowa City accused the council of valuing a bowling alley and nonprofit movie theater over the co-op, which has said it needs to expand.

"The public is not going to get what they asked for," she said. "I'm ashamed for my city."
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