Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow Opposes Chauncey Plan

By Haley Bruce, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa City residents concerned about the future of a development east of downtown are organizing in hopes of stopping or altering the construction of a 20-story tower at the corner of Gilbert and College Streets.

The group — which had a showing of roughly 50 people Monday evening — gathered at the Iowa City Public Library for it's second meeting in hopes of dividing into five constituencies to tackle their issues with the development, The Chauncey.

The dispute over that structure follows a 5-1 vote by the City Council earlier this month to negotiate a development agreement with the building's developer, Marc Moen.

The $53.8 million high-rise, as originally proposed by Moen, will include two movie theaters, a bowling alley and cafe, a 35-room hotel, two floors of office space and 12 floors of residential units. Moen has also requested $13.5 million in tax incremented financing to cover 25 percent of the project's cost. However, the City Council has not yet negotiated a development agreement, and the plot of land still needs to be re-zoned, so some details of the project could be changed, meaning members of the group will have a chance to voice their concerns to the council before the project is final.

Though those in the Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow expressed various reasons for opposing the structure, Jon Fogarty, one of the Coalition's organizers, said their primary objections will focus around the scale and sight of the building, ensuring there is more affordable housing in the development, improving the environmental efficiency of the building, questions about anchor tenants and arguments that The Chauncey would not be a financially responsible investment of tax payer dollars in comparison to the Council's other options.

"There were ten neat ideas that were proposed in different projects and that included one that made us money, invested public dollars, got a ton of affordable housing downtown and made us money and they ignored that," said Fogarty, in reference to the City Council on Sunday. "They ignored moving the park to the south side, they ignored energy efficiency, they ignored proposals that are acceptable within the current zoning of that parcel — they accepted the least imaginative design, they should have thrown them out and taken the best ideas and said heres all our requirements and resubmit."

Though Fogarty said a dream scenario would be for the Council to take the best ideas from each project and issue a new RFP, he and Rockne Cole, a co-chair of the group, told the rest of the Coalition Monday they want the their action from here on out to be positive and ensured them that they still have a chance to have an influence on the outcome of the development.

"This is about four specific things and if you just want to be against something that meeting is out the door and somewhere else.," Fogarty said. "I don't want to be pushing people against something, I'm for something I think as a community we have a healthy vision for what we all want in our space and that particular space. Let's keep it positive and it's not a personal thing."

Fogarty, who said he holds most issue with the way money is being spent for the project, said he is looking into whether The Chauncey will wind up costing taxpayers somewhere around $4 million because the building could not bring in enough money to pay off the tax incremented financing in full. John Yapp, director of transportation for Iowa City and the city's point person on the project, said The Chauncey will actually wind up being the best financial choice of the city's top three options, paying off the tax incremented financing in somewhere around 20 years and bringing back the most money — $9.3 million — to the city. Yapp also said the city asked the top three developers to produce a shadow study, which determined all of the buildings would have cast some kind of shadow over the nearby area.

"The Chauncey, of the alternatives, has the highest value financially," Yapp said Monday.

In response to the outcry over his project, Moen said he's determined, through his own study and discussions with the University of Iowa, that there is a need for both a movie theater and bowling alley near downtown, especially following the 21-ordinance. Ultimately, Moen said he thinks The Chauncey was a good match for what the Council wanted for the spot, adding it will be a good investment and one that will benefit the downtown long term.

"Really, what it comes down to is do you look at a city on the long view, or do you look to see how much money it would return immediately," Moen said. I think you look at longterm sustainability and what it would return over time, as to what it would return upfront."

If negotiations with Moen and his team fail, the Council indicated it's second choice would be the $48 million, 18-story Chauncey Gardens project. Yapp said the Council has not yet begun negotiations with Moen's team, and no date has yet been set for when those negotiations will begin.
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