Guest Opinion | An open letter on Riverside Theatre’s future

The board of directors and staff of Riverside Theatre write about what the new location for Riverside Theatre is going to offer.


Jake Maish

The Riverside Theatre is seen on Sunday, April 26, 2020.

The board of directors and staff of Riverside Theatre are happy to announce that we have found a new permanent home in the historic Crescent Building on the Ped Mall of downtown Iowa City.  The new theater will house a 150-seat fully flexible performance space designed by Neumann Monson Architects.

Though discussions and tentative plans concerning this move have been happening for more than a year, the Iowa City City Council’s unanimous approval of the Tailwind Group’s College Street redevelopment project at their Jan. 19 meeting made our hopes a certainty.  Riverside is grateful to the city councilors and staff for their vision and commitment to bringing this project to fruition.

Soon, downtown Iowa City will host the state’s premier black box theater space. For Riverside, the scope and timing of this project could not be better. It comes mid-way through the theater’s 40th anniversary season.

It advances the dreams of generations of theater patrons for a space where the needs of a production may dictate the audience’s experience, whether the stage be configured as a proscenium, thrust, or in the round. It enhances theatergoing for actors and audiences with new amenities and event spaces.

Riverside Theatre will take a place at the very center of the expanding Iowa City arts scene where stages, cinemas, and galleries offer rich cultural opportunities.

In mid-2020, Riverside’s board made the difficult decision to leave the Gilbert Street location — our home for the previous 30 years. We share with our community fond memories of many productions on that stage, and Riverside could only arrive where it is today because of our founders’ vision and the art that happened there. But the immediate limitations imposed by the pandemic as well as future needs of the theater convinced us that this is the time to move.

The new space will be substantially larger, offering accessible spaces for smaller events such as concerts and cabaret, in addition to the larger, more flexible mainstage itself. Patrons will find a bigger, more comfortable lobby with floor to ceiling windows looking over the ped mall.  Performers will enjoy better amenities and more spacious dressing and green rooms.

Perhaps most importantly, it is our hope that the new space will become a cultural destination for area residents and visitors. We want to contribute to the reinvigoration of the downtown district post-pandemic. With profound thanks to all who helped Riverside take this step in its journey, and to those who will help us on the road ahead, we look forward to Riverside’s next 40 years.

Lois Cox and Cynthia Schmidt, Co-chairs, Riverside Theatre Board of Directors