Business and Breakfast panel: Developers building to 'market demand'

Downtown housing will bring needed amenities

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Market demand is driving construction of new retail centers in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Corridor, according to a panel of real estate and economic development professionals at Friday’s Business 380 Business and Breakfast.

The event at the Cedar Rapids Public Library was attended by about 90 people.

Doug Laird, vice president of Skogman Commercial Realty, said developers of neighborhood retail centers are responding to the demand of the marketplace.

“They provide a value to the customer because parking is right at the front door,” Laird said. “They tend to be smaller units where customers don’t have to walk a quarter mile to a store. Out of town shoppers in particular really like to park next to the front door.”

Craig Byers, a Realtor with GLD Commercial Real Estate Advisors in Cedar Rapids, said developers constructing new strip centers are responding to retailers looking to enter or expand in the Corridor.

“A lot of these retailers are either new to the market or they’re opening a second location,” Byers said. “I don’t feel we are stealing retailers from one shopping center and moving them to another.

“I think once we get all of the square footage that we’re putting online in the next 12 to 18 months, we may be at the maximum of what we can take in retail square footage.”

Jerry Waddilove, chief operating officer of SouthGate Companies in Iowa City, said the key to absorbing some of the new retail space will be flexibility in redeveloping existing locations.

“We have a property where the Kmart is located in Iowa City,” Waddilove said. “While fortunately the Iowa City Kmart is not on the chopping block at this point, we have plans in place to reorient that space for self storage or some other kind of use similar to what has been done with other ‘big boxes’ on the north end of the Corridor.”

With more people living in downtown Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, the panelists said amenities such as a grocery store or pharmacy are likely to become a reality.

“The more people that we have living and working downtown, service businesses will follow,” said Doug Neumann, executive vice president and community development strategist with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. “The business plans for a grocery store, pharmacy or many other amenities will look a lot better if we have people living downtown 24/7.”

Laird said many residents of surrounding communities like Hiawatha and North Liberty are coming into downtown Cedar Rapids, NewBo or Iowa City to enjoy activities. He said more “in fill” needs to be considered by developers to take advantage of infrastructure already in place in or near downtown areas.

“I think we miss an awful lot of opportunity to do some great things,” Laird said. “We don’t necessarily have to go out and take a new green field to build an office building.”

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