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Cooper's Mill hotel may be closed for good

Cedar Rapids proposes buyout and demolition

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CEDAR RAPIDS — One of Cedar Rapids’ oldest hotels may soon be no more.

Cedar Rapids city staff is recommending a $5 million buyout of Best Western Cooper’s Mill so the property can be part of a planned flood protection system.

“Giving the river room to breathe, that is kind of what this does,” said Rob Davis, the city’s flood control program manager.

The Cedar Rapids Flood Control Committee is to be briefed on the recommended acquisition during a meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Five Seasons Conference Room in the City Services Center Building, 500 15th Ave. SW.

Built in 1972, Cooper’s Mill sits close to the west bank of the Cedar River at 90 F Ave. NW. The hotel closed in preparation for the recent flooding. The 82-room hotel, restaurant and bar sustained significant damage in the 2008 flood.

The hotel remains closed and is likely to not reopen if Cedar Rapids City Council approves the buyout at its Oct. 11 meeting, Davis said.

The Gazette was unable to reach Doug DeLong, the hotel’s owner, for comment.

“There’s a possibility that Cooper’s Mill will be no longer,” said Ralph Russell, a City Council member and head of the flood committee.

Russell said he is aware of the negotiations and that city officials were considering whether to try to protect or demolish the building. He expects to learn the latest details at Tuesday’s meeting.

The city investigated what’s called a flowage easement, in which the hotel could stay and the city would pay to allow the property to take on floodwater, Davis said.

Ultimately, the cost is about the same as a buyout, he added. Because the cost difference is negligible, city policy requires the buyout, Davis said.

Davis plans to bring up for discussion at the committee meeting whether flowage easement appraisals are wise. Buyouts have proved in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere to be about the same price as easements, and the buyout eliminates liability of having a building in use so close to the flood system, he said.

Some cities only allow flowage easements for agricultural property, Davis said.

“Based on our sampling and looking at what other cities have done, it would appear in the vicinity of levees an easement is really not practical,” Davis said.

The flood protection system master plan calls for a levee at the edge of the Cooper’s Mill property in the five- to 10-year time frame, Davis said. Having more land to help hold rising floodwater is the main driver in the acquisition, he said.

Hotel officials have agreed to what is called a “voluntary early acquisition,” which means they’ve agreed to sell the property now versus waiting until construction of a levee is imminent, Davis said.

“They are onboard with it,” he said.

Officials from the city and Cooper’s Mill have been discussing the buyout since the spring when hotel officials approached the city, Davis said. The recent flooding event had little to do with the decision, he added.

The price tag includes the property, structure and fixtures, Davis said. The plan is to demolish the building, likely next spring, he added.

This is the second buyout in recent months.

The city acquired the nearby Hubbard Ice building, also known as Hubbard Industrial Park, 1124 First St. NW, for $2.5 million in July. The city is relocating the tenants over the next six to 10 months before demolition, Davis said.

The money for the acquisitions comes from the state’s Growth Reinvestment Initiative — or GRI — that allows cities to use sales tax revenue to pay for flood mitigation projects.

Cooper’s Mill and Hubbard Ice were eligible for a federally-funded property buyout program following the 2008 flood, but they didn’t exercise that option, and the program ended, Davis said.

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

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