The evolution of Cedar Rapids' Edgewood Road
The major westside road has seen millions of dollars in development in recent years
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CEDAR RAPIDS — For 37 years, the owners of Peck’s Green Thumb Nursery have had a front door view of one of Cedar Rapids’s busiest streets.
Edgewood Road, the main north-south roadway on the city’s western side, comes right into Peck’s driveway, co-owner Pat Hines likes to say.
Soon, the Peck’s nursery will make way for a new retail and office development, just as land up and down Edgewood has before. Peck’s retail shop will close for good, likely in early October, while its landscaping business will continue from an as-yet-undecided new location.
The story of Peck’s mirrors that of Edgewood’s development.
Peck’s moved to a small piece of land at the intersection of Edgewood Road and Blairs Ferry NE around 1980. Blairs Ferry was just a gravel road and Peck’s was surrounded by farmland, Hines said.
“Everything was spread out. You felt like you were driving miles to anywhere you went,” Hines said.
As time went on, Peck’s and Edgewood both grew.
The nursery now occupies 20 acres of land, and giant signs welcome in customers. It sits on one of the busiest intersections on Cedar Rapids’s western side that can see upward of 30,000 vehicles a day.
“It’s been a very good home for this business,” Hines said.
In recent years, Edgewood has been expanded and become crowded with office and commercial developments. What once seemed like the unofficial edge of Cedar Rapids is now cemented as a main corridor, anchored by office space, shopping districts and plans for industrial growth at its southern end.
It only will become more centrally located as the extension of Highway 100 opens up more western land for development.
As more is built, undeveloped land has become scarce, multiple developers said. That means new projects will have to refurbish existing buildings, or tear them down and build something new.
“Land is starting to become hard to find. We’re running out of spots for people to develop along Edgewood Road,” said Scott Olson, a Cedar Rapids City Council member and commercial broker with Skogman Commercial Group. “It’s really tightened up.”
Peck’s Landing, the “power retail center” proposed to replace the nursery, is just one of the new developments built, in the works, or proposed along Edgewood.
About $50 million in new or remodeled construction has taken place just at Edgewood Road addresses since 2013, according to building permit data from the city. That doesn’t count repair, mechanical or other work, or the millions spent on major projects such as Westdale Mall and the Fountains, at Edgewood NE and Blairs Ferry.
Here are the major sites commuters should see if they drive Edgewood from the northern edge down to its southern end:
What is now the northern end of Edgewood Road NE is slated to become a 20-acre retail center called “Peck’s Landing.”
Ahmann Companies has proposed constructing four retail buildings, with the potential for office space in the future. With it comes the extension of Edgewood Road further into Hiawatha, with an eventual connection to County Home Road.
When announcing the project, listing agent Craig Byers said the Peck’s site was attractive because “it sits smack in the middle of” rapidly growing parts of Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha.
Peck’s Landing would be just north of the Fountains, another Ahmann mixed-use development site that began about four years ago.
Chad Pelley, business development manager at Ahmann, said Peck’s Landing is the next natural space for the company to build on after the Fountains.
“We’re progressing forward with natural progression in the area — as the Fountains fills up, what’s our next logical space in the area?” he said.
Pending city approvals, Ahmann has said it wants to start construction this fall and finish within two years.
While Ahmann Cos. gets started on Peck’s, it’ll be finishing up the Fountains, a $35 million multi-building site at the corner of Edgewood Road NE and Blairs Ferry Road.
Pelley said Ahmann initially planned to build three retail and three office buildings there. Now, as it approaches construction of the final office building, Ahmann may split the original 90,000-square-foot space into two 45,000-square-foot buildings with a connecting courtyard, he said.
The smaller buildings would make it easier for Ahmann to land multiple office tenants, given the difficulty of signing a single, large business occupant.
“We envisioned and we’ve always tried to lure the large office tenants. There’s just so few of them,” Pelley said.
BERTHEL FISHER FINANCIAL CENTER
Three years ago, financial services company Berthel Fisher announced it would move its headquarters to Cedar Rapids from Marion. Hunter Companies built the office, including space for retail, on what was an empty lot at 42nd Street NE and Edgewood Road NE.
“The traffic counts are fantastic. In our situation, with putting the Berthel Fisher Financial Center there, it’s a prime corner in the city,” said Greg Swartzendruber, director of business development for Hunter Cos.
Berthel Fisher brought about 85 employees to work in the new, $12 million building. Aerotek plans to move 35 employees from Hiawatha to the center in October, a spokeswoman for the company said.
The addition of those jobs, Swartzenruber said, means what used to be an empty corner will soon have at least 125 new jobs for Cedar Rapids and the possibility of more.
Development along the northern end of Edgewood has numerous ties to Transamerica and its parent, AEGON. The insurance company previously owned much of the land on the east side of Edgewood that is now the Fountains, an adjacent Hy-Vee and the Berthel Fisher Financial Center.
Swartzendruber credited AEGON for choosing good corporate neighbors for Edgewood.
“They were the ones that owned a lot of this ground, and they were very selective in whom they wanted to have out there as neighbors,” he said.
Transamerica still has offices at the northwest corner of 42nd Street NE and Edgewood Road and owns undeveloped land north of them. Julie Quinlan, vice president of public affairs, said the company is “currently determining strategy regarding” the undeveloped land.
The company will have moved about 1,300 employees out of the Edgewood offices to C Street SW by the end of 2018 and plans to sell the office space. Quinlan did not comment on how this would affect AEGON staff in offices at the corner of Edgewood Road and N. River Boulevard NE.
Edgewood Road also is spotted with smaller retail strips, whose occupancy changes with market shifts.
Popular eatery chains have built or are constructing sites off Edgewood, from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen to Dunkin’ Donuts and a joint Caribou Coffee-Einstein Bros. Bagels. Grocery chain Aldi is remodeling its store just off Edgewood Road.
Olson, with Skogman, said he expects Edgewood to “remain the commercial hot strip” of the area.
“We’re starting to see older properties get converted, we’re starting to see people improve the properties, the roads are being improved by the city because traffic counts are up,” Olson said.
City officials also pointed to two new apartment complexes — Riverview Place and Cedar River Bluffs apartments — as significant housing developments for that corridor.
Meanwhile, Casey’s General Store is expanding at 3625 Edgewood Road SW, an example of the roadway’s increased traffic, Olson said.
“That tells you something about what’s happening in the area when they have a store there, are going to demolish it and build a big one,” Olson said.
There are some big sites up for lease or empty, however. They include the former Gander Mountain, which the company shuttered in anticipation of a new store on the city’s northeast side. Next to it, a 65,000-square foot anchor building that used to house an Econofoods also is empty.
Future development plans for Cedar Rapids, such as ConnectCR, call for the city to develop a “corridor action plan” for Edgewood Road, similar to one for Mount Vernon Road. Development of that plan is likely a few years away, though.
“As we move forward, we’re looking at those corridors not only to move cars, but pedestrians and bikes and bus transit and how those corridors are interacting with the commercial areas around them and the residential areas around them,” said Jennifer Pratt, the city’s community development director.
Perhaps one of the most watched developments on the western side is the $90 million evolution of Westdale Mall from an enclosed mall to more of an open-air shopping center.
“Even with Westdale being in the state it was before and the vacancy issues and the lack of customer traffic, the location was still phenomenal,” said Lisa Rowe, Westdale’s general manager.
Since 2014, Frew Development has taken down buildings, transitioned anchor stores such as J.C. Penney’s to stand on their own and moved in a ring road around the mall to provide “pad sites” for other construction.
“By moving the ring road in, we created all those buildable sites where you see Chick-fil-A, U.S. Bank, Freddy’s, Chipotle. We created all of those, they didn’t exist before,” Rowe said.
This year is the first, Rowe said, in which Frew is in a phase of building from the ground up. As new tenants open or renovated space come back online, Rowe said customer counts have increased.
“Edgewood Road is going to continue to be a very thriving road, and whenever you see those traffic counts, that’s what retailers like to be a part of,” Rowe said.
South of Westdale and Highway 30, Edgewood Road opens up into more farm and undeveloped land the city has designated for future industrial development.
“All future industrial growth is from Highway 30 to the airport. Most of the jobs, industrial jobs, will be located on the southside,” said Olson, the city council member.
Plans include setting aside almost 2,000 acres for industrial parks and an intermodal facility to provide more connections between rail and truck freight movement. Each of those sites sits just north of Eastern Iowa Airport and Wright Brothers Boulevard, which also is where Edgewood ends.
“That has been the city plan, making sure that we maximize the use of the airport. … The city has invested in water capacity and other things to make sure that we are poised to make those large tracts of land attractive to industrial,” Pratt said.
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