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Knutson developers remain committed to restoration despite flood

Historic Knutson and Mott buildings survive flood mostly unscathed

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids’ most high profile dilapidated building still is standing after a second flood and all systems are a go to restore the former condensed milk factory into apartments, said the developer in process of acquiring the Knutson Building.

The 1887-built two story brick building on the west bank of the Cedar River took on a few inches water this week, but the structure is in no worse condition than before the second worst flooding event in Cedar Rapids history, developer B.J. Hobart said.

The Knutson Building and its slightly younger neighbor, the Mott Building, which Hobart also restored, were both inundated in the 2008 flood but escaped with few scars this week.

“They are both OK,” Hobart said.

The city still owns the Knutson at 525 Valor Way SW, but Hobart’s team was granted early access to begin emergency stabilization and demolition, which included clearing the space of muck and trash from years of sitting vacant. Cedar Rapids City Council in July selected the plan offered by Hobart’s company, Hobart Historic Restoration, to save the building and should transfer the property some time next spring.

Temporary weight-bearing beams had been strategically placed to stabilize the Knutson structure and most of the demo work had been complete just before the river spilled out of its banks. The Hobarts took no other steps to hold back the water.

“We just let it go,” Hobart said.

Aside from cleaning mud out of the basement, the building appears to be in the same shape as before, she said.

Jim Hobart, Hobart’s husband and a consultant for the company, pointed out a temporary earthen berm built to prevent floodwater from spilling into the city was leaning up against the foundation. The building still is fragile, Jim Hobart said, so he is hopeful it caused no damage.

Work will resume on Monday with continued demolition of the roof. Crews cleared out 13 dumpster fulls of garbage, and likely have a few more to go, Hobart said.

The building has passed environmental clearance and is safe to enter, B.J. Hobart said while giving The Gazette on Friday one of the first looks inside of the Knutson in years.

Design plans will need to be approved by the city and the state historic preservation office, and the Hobarts hope to get tax credits for brownfield and grayfield restoration and historic restoration. The hope is to begin the restoration construction, which includes saving the iconic exterior of the building, in March with completion in fall 2017.

The adjacent Mott Building, which was built in 1900 as a shop for a farm windmill company, just reopened this year with 16 loft apartments.

After protecting the Mott with sandbags and removing an antique car — a 1910s-built Maxon on loan from The History Center — residents evacuated. Some went to hotels on the Hobart’s dime, and Jim Hobart and four others rotated around the clock for five nights monitoring six pumps used to keep water out of the basement. It worked as the basement only saw about three inches of water, which seeped in through the foundation walls, he said.

At 19-feet river level the properties get water in the basement. At 27-feet river level, water reaches the first floors, he said. An under construction Hobart project — the $11 million six-story new build called the Metropolitan, 450 First Street SW — did not take on water, the Hobarts said.

While Hobart’s properties survived, both Jim and B.J. Hobart said they are concerned the second major flood in eight years could have a chilling effect on getting people to live and invest in downtown Cedar Rapids, and hope a plan B is in the works to get a permanent flood barrier built.

“Everyone has been working their butts off to get people downtown to live,” Jim Hobart said. “And then this happens. I hope it doesn’t slow the momentum down.”

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