Entrepreneur looks to clear half a block on First Avenue near Coe College for redevelopment

John Khairallah started Zio Johno’s when he was 21 years old in 1000 square feet at this location, which has now reopened as Via Sophia’s. Photographed in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
John Khairallah started Zio Johno’s when he was 21 years old in 1000 square feet at this location, which has now reopened as Via Sophia’s. Photographed in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A local businessman wants tear down six structures on First Avenue SE near Coe College to make way for a row of new retail storefronts.

Other than China Inn, 1435 First Ave. SE, which remains open, the structures on First Avenue SE west of 15th Street, such as the former Music Loft location and several vacant houses converted into apartments, are unused or underused, businessman John Khairallah said.

“We’d like to tear them all down and put in a new brick building to improve the block,” said Khairallah, who started Zio Johno’s and owns Via Sofia’s Italian Kitchen. “The neighborhood is making a lot of improvements, so that is why we are making this move. There’s a lot of opportunity.”

China Inn would relocate two doors down to the old Xavier Pizza location, 1401 First Ave SE.

Khairallah has owned the China Inn building since 2001, and bought the other properties in one deal in December 2017 after Music Loft closed, to fulfill his vision for that space.

The Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission will review Khairallah’s request for six demolition permits when it meets at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the Five Seasons Conference Room at the City Services Center, 500 15th Ave. SW. The commission can put up to a 60-day hold on demolition, but it can’t block demolition permits.

City staff recommended granting permits immediately. The properties include 113 15th St. SE, a 1903-built house converted into apartments and considered in “very poor” condition; 117 15th St. SE, a 1900-built house converted into apartments and considered in “poor” condition; 1435 First Ave. SE, the 1965-built home of China Inn considered in “normal” condition; 1439 First Ave. SE, a 1905-built house converted into apartments and considered in “below normal” condition with an accessory structure in “poor” condition; 1443 First Ave. SE, the 1934-built former Music Loft location considered in “poor” condition; and 1445 First Ave. SE, a 1900-built single family home attached to another part of the old Music Loft building and considered in “poor” condition.

City staff said the structures don’t have historic value.

Khairallah is planning a single-story row of retail storefronts totaling about 9,000 or 10,000 square feet and taking up the entire footprint of the properties along First Avenue, with parking in back.

The space will be subdivided into five or six retail units, he said.


He’d like demolitions to occur this spring and would begin construction in the summer or fall.

“Who ever is interested in coming in and doing retail will be welcome,” he said.

Jim Xiao, owner of China Inn, said he wasn’t expecting a move after being in the location for 15 years, but he sees an upside.

The new space will be remodeled and updated, while the current location needs work, he said. He anticipates moving in two or three months when Khairallah is ready for demolition. Xiao anticipates being closed for up to two weeks during the relocation.

“It will be almost the same as here,” Xiao said. “We want people to feel comfortable, and it is closer to Coe College, so it is more convenient for students.”

Mark Stoffer Hunter, historian with the History Center and chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said he plans to inquire about preserving the front facade of the Music Lofts building, and there may be interest in salvaging remnants from the homes.

But otherwise, he said, the structures appear to be in too poor condition to save.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177;



IOWA CITY - Iowa's largest utility MidAmerican Energy has proposed some reductions to 'right-size' the company's energy-efficiency programs and provide a savings to customers.However, consumer advocate representatives and some in ...

Editor's note: This is a follow-up to a previous column published early in 2017, 'Who's on your personal board of directors?'There are four types of people that everyone needs to have on their personal board of directors.l The Con ...

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.

Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.