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Cedar Rapids developers: 'We are not slowing down'

Plans, dollars flowing despite flood

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Before all the HESCO sand barriers had even been removed following September’s flood, developer Fred Timko had signed a contract for his next investment — a plot of land in Kingston Village — well within last month’s evacuation zone.

On Monday, Timko closed on a quarter block at Second Street SW and Fourth Avenue SW for $69,000 with another $30,000 committed to demolish the old Wells Fargo Bank drive through.

“It’s a pretty good size piece of property,” said Timko, who also owns the adjacent Peoples Savings Bank building. “I’m still thinking about what I want to do with it, but it will be pretty significant when it’s done.”

Developers such as Timko have poured millions into properties in and around downtown Cedar Rapids, backed by city tax breaks enticing construction near the unpredictable Cedar River. The river recorded its two highest crests ever in the past eight years, but there’s no guarantees of if and when their investment will be protected.

The reality of a promised $625 million flood protection system that would keep properties dry remains a mystery due to complications with federal and state funding.

Still, Timko and others said the threat is not scaring them away, and they are confident in city leaders efforts to get the permanent flood system built.

“It may cause a little pause, but I but don’t think it will significantly deter people from coming downtown,” Timko said of the flood which crested at nearly 22 feet on Sept. 27. “There’s so much else going on. As a developer, we are not slowing down.”

Backers of some of the area’s highest profile plans similarly said they aren’t backing away, either.

“We remain committed to contributing to the Cedar Rapids economy and driving urban renewal through our proposed boutique casino project,” said Tom Timmons, president and chief operating officer of Wild Rose Entertainment. “At this time, we are continuing to meet with stakeholders in the area to discuss the project.”

The Wild Rose group, in partnership with local developers Steve Emerson and Hunter Parks, proposed a $40 million casino project at First Avenue E, across from the DoubleTree Hotel and Convention Center.

Jesse Allen, of Allen Development, said he remains committed to his bid for what would be the tallest building ever in Cedar Rapids, a 28-story, $103 million high rise called One Park Place at the east corner of First Street SE and Third Avenue SE.

“We are still very excited about the project in Cedar Rapids,” Allen said on Friday.

City officials are still vetting the financial viability of the project.

One of the main tenants planned for the building, Jim Mondanaro via his Bread Garden grocery store and cafe — which would be situated at street level — said when the flooding hit he thought about how it would affect the business had it been there, but his concerns are eased by an expectation the building design would account for the flooding risk. He said he remains confident in the plans.

“I can’t imagine the city is going to give (tax increment financing) money for a new building if it is not built above the flood zone,” Mondanaro said. “I just think it is common sense.”

Hobart Historic Restoration was back at work the Monday after the river crest on a multimillion-dollar rehabilitation project of the dilapidated Knutson Building. Sitting feet from the Cedar River, the Knutson is as much a reminder of the wrath of flooding as any other building.

Joe Ahmann, of Ahmann Companies, has one of four buildings built in the planned $20 million Depot project in the 400 block of 12th Avenue SW in the heart of the New Bohemia District. NewBo’s elevation is about 19 feet, which is three feet lower than where the Cedar crested last month. In other words, it would have been underwater had city leaders not mobilized a massive temporary flood protection operation.

Ahmann said he is not scaling back plans for The Depot, and he anticipates investing another $10 million to $15 million over the next 18 to 24 months. But his projects, such as the Depot or Village Lofts in Kingston Village, were built with an elevated foundation and no basement for self-protection if the river swells up to 24 feet.

“The city didn’t tell builders, ‘Come down here and we’ll build you a flood wall,’” Ahmann said. “The city can only do what it can do. As far as us continuing to develop, we’ll keep looking on a case-by-case basis. We designed plans to be above flood level.

“Everyone would want to see a permanent flood system. But will (not having it) stop us from building new plans we haven’t started?

“No.”

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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