Protesting against shadows

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: February 9 2013 | 11:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:04 am in

By Bob Elliott

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Without even a nod to Don Quixote, a group of local residents have identified themselves as “Iowa City Coalition Against the Shadow.”

The group is protesting a proposed 20-story building to be located at the downtown intersection of College and Gilbert streets. The high rise project, identified as “The Chauncey,” was selected by city council from among nine proposed multiuse structures submitted by various developers.

The “shadow” group is protesting the council’s preliminary selection of The Chauncey, which would feature a movie theater and bowling alley below commercial and residential space. Still in the planning stage, The Chauncey needs final council approval before actual construction begins.

The protest appears directed mainly against shadows the proposed building would make. And caught up in the controversy is the developer, Marc Moen.

A Jan. 25 KCRG-TV news report quoted Rockne Cole saying, “Marc Moen has never been elected to office, not even once, and he’s transforming our entire town … .(He’s) one person that posses more power than the city council, the mayor, and community groups.”

Clearly, Cole embraces overstatement as much as the protesting group attempts to emulate 17th century literature (Don Quixote) and 20th century musical theater (“Man from La Mancha”). But Don Quixote was at least jousting against windmills, while the Iowa City protesters are tilting at shadows. Literally, protesting against shadows.

My response? We’re a city. Not an Iowa town or Iowa village. The Iowa City-Coralville-North Liberty metro area has a population of more than 100,000. We take pride in being one of the two fastest-growing metro areas in the state.

More than a decade ago, it was understood that property values, especially in downtown areas, make it imperative for new development to focus on building “up,” not “out.” An expanding skyline is part of that growth factor.

The personality part of the controversy apparently stems from the fact that The Chauncey would be at least the fourth city-Moen joint development project in the downtown area.

Moen’s other downtown projects include the Vito’s building ongoing renovation on the pedestrian mall and 14-story Park at 201 building at the ped mall’s north end, and also the 14-story Plaza Towers on South Linn Street.

The concern among several of the protesters is Moen’s proposal doesn’t include space for New Pioneer Co-op grocery store, which several of the other proposals did. According to a report by The Gazette (updated online Jan. 8), Martha Norbeck of Iowa City accused the council of valuing a bowling alley and movie theater over space for the New Pioneer Co-op.

That’s probably because the downtown area already has two grocery stores, but not a bowling alley or a movie theater (other than the UI Union’s Bijou Cinema).

Another person pushing for the structure to include an expanded New Pioneer Co-op is Karen Kubby. A friend whom I greatly admire, despite sometimes disagreeing with her urban philosophies, Karen wrote an opinion piece in the Jan. 26 Press-Citizen pointing out one reason the co-op grocery store deserves to be included is because it has 26,000 members.

Based on that reasoning, Hy-Vee should be the grocery store of choice there, because it

undoubtedly attracts the most shoppers in the metro area.

l Bob Elliott, longtime resident of Iowa City, served a term on the City Council and is retired after 30 years at ACT’s national office. Comments: elliottb53@aol.com

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