Neighbors embrace revitalizing College District in Cedar Rapids

About 100 turn out to hear city's plans

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Hart family’s circa-1900 home has great bones and a lot of character, with copper nobs and other historic accents, said Amy and Jesse Hart, who live in the Mound View neighborhood.

Their home is surrounded by other houses of that generation and great neighbors in a neighborhood that has witnessed some deterioration but could be situated in a prime location between two upgrade-minded college campuses, Coe College and Mount Mercy University, just north of downtown, they said.

“We love our house so much, we want to see the area thrive, but it could use some revitalization,” Amy Hart said. “We want to see other residents care and be passionate.”

They see potential for what city officials and community members have recently begun calling the College District. The Harts were among 100 people who attended the kickoff forum for a city-led effort called the College District Action Plan at Shores Event Center, 700 16th St. NE, on Tuesday.

The hope is to cull feedback from local stakeholders to influence development and policies that will shape the neighborhood.

The area in the city’s northeast quadrant is bounded by First Avenue, 20th Street, Mercy Drive, Elmhurst Drive, Oakland Road and Coe Road.

At the meeting, some spoke of unkempt rental properties, crumbling sidewalks, poor lighting and litter from drug use as some of the biggest weaknesses. The area also has a number of strengths, such as college students, college sporting events, connection to the CEMAR bike trail and proximity to Cedar Lake, they said.

They hoped to leverage the student population, those in the area for sporting events or on a bike ride to spur new restaurants, retail and other amenities, they said.

“For Mount Mercy, this is a great opportunity to be a community resources,” said Lonna Drewelow, who works in development and alumni relations for Mount Mercy and serves on the action plan steering committee.

She said one need is different types of housing, such as structures with retail on the ground level and housing above.

“It’s an opportunity to have more to offer students and staff. We are looking at how to maximize the investment of Coe and Mount Mercy to develop the area in between and make it thrive,” she said.

The two schools have at least $40 million invested in recent or under construction projects, mainly to upgrade athletics facilities.

The action plan is part of a series of such endeavors city staff have undertaken, one or two at a time, around the city.

The College District plan will include two more open houses — one in the fall and one in the spring — and would be finalized with a vote by Cedar Rapids City Council in September 2018.

Adam Lindenlaub, who is spearheading the planning process for the city, said the city could help with beautification, streetscaping, improving street and sidewalk connectivity, and adjusting zoning codes to encourage desired development.

“We are going to look at how people get there and how do they get out,” Lindenlaub said. “We are going to look at connections — driving, bus routes, biking, walking. How can people get around and what is the comfort level?”

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