New money for rehabbing old property in Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids puts $50,000 in new Historic Rehabilitation Program

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Preservation buffs will have access to a few dollars more for historic rehabilitation projects in Cedar Rapids.

The City Council on Tuesday approved the Historic Rehabilitation Program to expand and replace the more limited Paint Rebate Program. The rehab program helps pay for a greater variety of projects in designated historic areas.

The program “would help owners in our local historic districts offset the costs of historic restoration of their properties,” said Jeff Hintz, a city planner.

The new program combines the $25,000 paint program budget with an additional $25,000 budgeted this year for non-specific historic preservation activities. Painting, removing synthetic materials, repair work and recreating ornamental details are among the projects now eligible for up to $5,000.

The program is limited to the historic landmark — the Ausadie Building — and properties in the Second and Third Avenue (SE) Historic District and the Redmond Park-Grande Avenue Historic District. Owner-occupied buildings and work to the exterior of buildings will get priority.

Applicants below 80 percent of the low-moderate income level, which varies based on household size, would get a grant if approved. Those at or above that level would be eligible for a no-interest loan paid back to the program over five years.

An application is expected to go live this week at Cedar-Rapids.org and awards will be made on Feb. 1, Hintz said. Leftover money would be available on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.

“We want people to use all of this money,” Hintz said.

The Historic Preservation Commission, which explored ways to expand what’s covered, recommended the program.

The city requires property owners to abide by rigorous standards when working in the historic districts, and historic preservation work can be pricey. Residents had been seeking more flexibility to help ease the pain, said Ann Poe, a council member and liaison to the commission.

“For us to require residents in those districts to follow really specific requirements, it doesn’t seem fair to me not to do more to help them,” she said.

LEADERSHIP CLASS

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, a surprise debate emerged over an obscure agenda item to cover the $2,500 tuition for City Council member Susie Weinacht to participate in Leadership Iowa, a leadership and networking course sponsored by the Iowa Association and Business and Industry Foundation and started in 1982.

City Council member Justin Shields requested the matter be removed from the consent agenda for a public vetting. The consent agenda includes usually non-controversial and routine business and gets approved as one slate without discussion.

City documents noted Weinacht would cover her own expenses for travel and lodging but few other details were provided about the course, which meets periodically across the state later this year and early next, according to the course website.

“There’s thousands of these type of organizations across the country,” Shields said. “You could make the same case for just about every one of them. Unless we are prepared to go in and start looking to send people to every organization under the sun, I will be strictly opposed to this.”

Mayor Ron Corbett defended the plan, noting it was an honor for Weinacht to get accepted and could pay dividends for the city.

“If council wishes, the majority of council can vote against it but quite frankly I think it would be shortsighted and petty,” Corbett said.

The board ended up approving the expense by a 4-3 vote with Corbett, Scott Olson, Kris Gulick and Pat Shey in favor and Ralph Russell, Shields and Poe opposed. Weinacht abstained and Scott Overland was not present.

“I’m a longtime former member of Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and I’m very familiar with this program,” Russell said. “But for this amount of money I would be looking at other leadership and networking opportunities.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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