Mason: Downtown location likely for Voxman/Clapp

by Gigi Wood

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA – The return of the University of Iowa arts campus is in its initial phases following nearly two years of flood recovery, community forums and discussions with officials. UI President Sally Mason and other UI leaders will present plans to the Board of Regents April 28 and 29 in Iowa City for the school’s arts campus. Many of the arts buildings were flooded in 2008 and the programs need to be relocated.

Hancher Auditorium will be rebuilt to the west of its former location and the hiring of a construction management crew will be discussed at next week’s meeting, she said.

“We had originally proposed with Hancher, obviously, to just move it up the hill, out of the flood plain and we feel that is a great plan and I’m hoping next week we’ll be able to talk about a construction manager for that project and be moving forward on that project,” she said.

The possibility of locating the Voxman and Clapp buildings downtown is looking favorable, she said. The UI is working to relocate the buildings, which house the music school’s classrooms and recital areas, to an area just south of downtown Iowa City that is owned by several private businesses.

“With Voxman/Clapp, we said we would come back in April and either ask the board to allow us to continue moving forward with plans to move it downtown or, if we think that’s not a viable plan, then go and immediately revisit a site out on the west side,” Ms. Mason said. “And I think we’re feeling pretty good about the downtown location at this point in time. I’m not going to say that it’s 100 percent, but I’m feeling that we have a good story there and a lot of enthusiasm, from all interested parties for that downtown site, so stay tuned.”

The plans will need to be approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) before moving forward; FEMA plans to pay 90 percent of the eligible replacement costs for the buildings because recovery costs equal more than half of the buildings’ pre-flood values. The overall estimated cost of replacing the three facilities is $276 million.

“We laid out our initial plans to (the Regents) back in February in regards to how we wanted to handle Hancher and Voxman/Clapp and I think we’re pretty close to being ready now to go back and say we’ve got a good plan for Voxman/Clapp and we’re proceeding and have proceeded with Hancher and off we go,” she said.

The Voxman/Clapp facility could be constructed just south of Burlington Street, the southern perimeter of downtown, in partnership with private developers and other businesses.

“I think it’s particularly exciting to look at what I call a mixed-purpose project, where we’ve got the university entity hooked up with private developers and some really exciting and interesting ideas for what we might have for not only our school of music but downtown development, too,” Ms. Mason said.

Reconstruction of the arts campus is one of the top priorities for the UI.

“Our flood recovery remains our highest priority as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “The budget difficulties have been challenging to say the least in the midst of all this. But I think our flood recovery has continued to progress very well despite the bad economy and the bad budget news.”

As students are bussed to buildings such as the former Menards building on Highway 1 and patrons attend events intended for Hancher at the Englert Theatre downtown and area high schools, the community is very aware of the displacement of the UI’s programs.

“In terms of music, we don’t have the opportunities for the recital hall stage that we once had with the Voxman and Clapp gone. We’ve had to do some creative things,” Ms. Mason said. “In the Old Capitol mall downtown we have a small recital hall now and we have ways in which we’ve managed to accommodate the arts in the interim. But these are temporary. They’re very temporary. So we’re all anxious to get back to where we have a performing arts facility, where we have a recital hall, where we can do opera and where we have good museum display space with an art museum that’s not just for the university but for the community, as well.”

Museum of Art

Another widely-felt gap in the arts program is the lack of a university art museum.

An envisioning committee was commissioned last year by Ms. Mason to report on ideas for the next museum. The majority of the UI’s art collection was saved from the flood and is now being housed at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, while some pieces are on display at the Iowa Memorial Union on the main campus. It is not economically feasible to renovate the former UI museum.

The committee submitted its report Feb. 3.

“The report says sooner than later we need the museum, it’s creating a social vacuum and an educational vacuum for the university,” said Carroll Reasoner, interim vice president for legal affairs and general counsel, who chaired the committee.

The committee is now disbanded. The UI is in the process of searching for the museum’s next director to lead the planning, location and building of a new museum. Plans for the museum, however, will not be discussed at this week’s regents meeting.

“I think with these things, we take one step at a time, and I’m anxious to see the candidates we’ll bring in as potential museum directors and hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll have more that we can talk about with the regents, with the new museum director in terms of where our museum will be in the future,” Ms. Mason said.


Once a director is in place, the UI will begin to look at fundraising options to determine the scale of the new museum. The UI Foundation will undertake fundraising for the entire arts campus, Forrest Meyer, the foundation’s spokesman, stated in an e-mail.

“Early planning is under way now for a unified arts fundraising campaign (for the performing and visual arts) at the UI,” he stated.

Included programs in the campaign are Hancher Auditorium, the school of music, the school of art and art history, the theater and dance departments and the museum of art. Leaders from these areas and the foundation have been meeting to discuss priorities, but decisions about specific priorities are quite a ways off, he added.

Dollars will be raised for both buildings and the programs, he stated, though the proportions have not yet been decided. Neither has an overall goal.

“While some campaign goals may be for the performing and visual arts overall, each unit within the campaign also will have its own goals. But again, none of those have been finalized yet,” he stated. “I would emphasize that the planning, while going on in earnest, is still in its very early stages.”

Ms. Mason said several funding options will be pursued, including additional public/private partnerships.

“We have big dreams and my hope is that we can realize some of those big dreams. We live in a community where the arts are highly valued, so from my perspective the support of the community is going to be very important on this project as it is on all of our projects,” she said. “That was a very strong and important take-home message from the envisioning report, is that we’re looking at a facility that will be used obviously for academic purposes, but also for community outreach that the museum has always provided.”

The future projects will help the community despite the poor economy, she said.

“(Iowa City’s buoyant economy), some of that has to do with all of the projects we have under way, some of which were under way before the economy collapsed and before the flood, others are a direct result of flood recovery,” Ms. Mason said. “In some ways we’re a little stimulus package unto ourselves; at this point, every opportunity we have to provide jobs both in the short term and long term, we’re taking full advantage of that.”