Cedar Rapids prepares to back redevelopment of two shuttered sites

Nash Finch and Great Furniture Mart locations proposed for incentives

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Mayor Ron Corbett on Friday said City Hall is ready to provide financial incentives for two new private-sector proposals that will give two shuttered properties new life in new roles.

In the first, Hunter Companies of Cedar Rapids is proposing to transform the former Nash Finch warehouse and industrial complex on 19 acres at 1201 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE, which closed last year, by demolishing the buildings and constructing a $16-million to $20-million mixed-use retail center.

In the second, local developer Joe Ahmann is proposing to convert the former Great Furniture Mart building, at 600 and 616 First St. SE, into a mix of market-rate downtown housing and office and commercial space with basement-level parking.

"What is this flurry of investment in Cedar Rapids?" Corbett asked on Friday. "A lot of people are excited about the city," he answered.

Corbett said the City Council on Tuesday will discuss providing City Hall economic development incentives for both projects.

The council, he added, has repeatedly backed targeted incentives for "older, blighted" sites in need of redevelopment. He noted that Raining Rose is now at what had been the site of an Allis-Chalmers plant; Mount Mercy University is taking over part of the closed Terex plant site; and Geonetric Inc. is building a new headquarters on the former Iowa Steel brownfield in New Bohemia.

Wade Hiner, business development manager for the Hunter Companies, on Friday said his firm has been working with property owner Nash Finch, the city and businesses entities interested in locating on the 19-acre site since November when Nash Finch closed its doors.

Hiner said Hunter Companies hopes to convince the City Council to provide some support for the project that he called the "largest infill project" in northeast Cedar Rapids where, he added, there is not much left on which to develop.

Hiner said the $16-million to $20-million investment will create a retail center across Blairs Ferry Road NE from SuperTarget and down the street from the cityís largest employer, Rockwell Collins.

"Restaurants and retail would do really, really well there," he said. "Itís one of the busiest streets in Cedar Rapids."

He envisioned a commercial development not unlike those that have sprung up around Jordan Creek Town Center mall in West Des Moines.

Hiner said Hunter Companies has the Nash Finch property under contract to purchase and is in a "due diligence" phase as it seeks City Hall incentives and works to secure commitments from businesses to locate on the site.

If all goes as planned, he said Hunter Companies would close on the property purchase in September, demolish the warehouse buildings in the fall and start construction in the spring.

According to a City Council agenda memorandum, Hunter Companies has estimated that the project could be complete by the spring of 2015.

The company is seeking property-tax relief from City Hall in the form of tax increment financing for eight years. The proposal would reimburse to the company 100 percent of the property taxes that come from the new investment or a total amount of a little more than $1 million.

Developer Joe Ahmann was not available on Friday to discuss his plans for the former Great Furniture Mart building on First Street SE in the downtown.

According to a City Council agenda memorandum, Ahmann, who is representing T.A.T. Investments, is asking the city to provide a TIF arrangement for 100 percent of the property tax on the value added to the property over 10 years. The incentive will let him keep an estimated in $1.33 million in property taxes that wouldnít be coming to the city but for the redevelopment.

Corbett said the proposed incentives make great investments for taxpayers.

"Sometimes people donít realize on these abandoned sites that it costs money to do nothing because property values continue to deteriorate and the property pays less and less in taxes," the mayor said. "Ö So it makes all the financial sense in the world for the city to participate in redeveloping these properties. It reverses the downward slide, and provides a trajectory where the properties increase in value again."


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