Work begins on small, but critical, 16th Avenue extension in Cedar Rapids

$1.2 million project expected to 'unlock' NewBo for development

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CEDAR RAPIDS — After years of on-again, off-again, on-again planning for a 16th Avenue SE extension from its end at Fourth Street SE to the front of St. Wenceslaus Church on Fifth Street SE, some in the New Bohemia District were skeptical hearing road work would begin this summer.

To make matters worse, the contractor missed the late start date identified in its contract by six weeks.

Neighbors, who mostly support the extension, wanted proof the project was really happening before getting excited.

They now have it. On Friday, crews were moving in equipment and unloading material.

This small, but critical, street project should expand the footprint of the trendy NewBo district with 16th Avenue as a new anchor and enhance the flow of foot, bike and vehicle traffic between NewBo, Czech Village and recreational trails, city officials said. It should also unlock development opportunity in previously blocked off land.

“There’s no downside to it from our perspective,” said Dave Martin, business manager for St. Wenceslaus, 1224 Fifth St. SE. “The line of site coming out of Czech Village will be our park, Czech Heritage Park, and church. You can see it just jumping at you. It will bring a lot more traffic, and some of them might be Catholic.”

When finished, the picturesque red brick St. Wenceslaus and the adjacent Czech Heritage Park will frame the roadway for travelers coming from Czech Village.

“An important thing from a development perspective is creating that vista. That’s a new buzzword people are hearing in planning,” said Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids Community Development director. “What sort of views are being creating for people to experience?”

$1.2 million contract

Ricklefs Excavating of Anamosa, has the $1.2 million contract to complete the extension work that includes paving the extension and a roundabout in front of St. Wenceslaus, upgrades to sanitary and storm sewers, realignment of Fifth Street SE, and sidewalks. Sidewalks along Fifth Street SE will be constructed to connect with future trails north of 12th Avenue SE and south to the future Sleeping Giant bridge over the Cedar River.

The contract calls for final completion in June 2018. The contract has milestone completion dates for underground utilities and partial paving by Sept. 29, and completion of sodding and seeding by May 31, 2018. Final completion is due by June 22, 2018.

“This shouldn’t change the completion date,” Cory Elwick, Ricklefs project manager, said of missing the June 26 late start date listed in the contract.

City officials also said they are confident Ricklefs will meet its deadlines.

Unlocking development

Several shops exist on 16th already, but there’s a distinct gap in development between 16th and the vibrancy of NewBo, leaving some feeling left out. Tornado’s Grub and Pub at the corner of 16th Avenue SE and Third Street SE has several vacant lots separating it from the main part of NewBo.

“We are glad to see it, and we want to be part of it,” Tornado’s owner Tom Slaughter said. “When this happens it will start to include us in the newness of the area. We’ve been on the outside looking in.”

Some developers already are expressing interest, and city planning maps forecast at least four new buildings along this one-block extension alone.

“It’s going to unlock all of the property there, and I think the interest there is going to be high,” said Craig Byers, the listing agent for the 329 Building, 329 12th Ave. SE. “Developers are going to really start taking a look at the property. With different types of product and different types of use, you are going to attract different demographic groups. ... It will make it that much more vibrant.”

Construction recently began on the $5 million, four-story 329 Building, which fills in one of the vacant areas between 16th Avenue businesses and the heart of NewBo north of 12th Avenue SE.

Jack Hatch, with Hatch Development Group, has announced plans for a $19 million project called ArtTech Village, at 455 16th Ave. SE, behind the Geonetric building. The concept includes two, three-story buildings with commercial space and residential units geared toward artists and entrepreneurs.

Opening an artery

“The vision for the extension has been on drawing boards and in city plans for more than 30 years,” said Dale Todd, of the Southside Investment Board and Hatch Development. “It opens an artery directly between Czech Village and NewBo by reminding us of the radiance of St. Wenceslaus Church and the historical relationship of the parish to these neighborhoods.”

Eventually, as space fills in, Cedar Rapids would have an expanded NewBo district with a seamless connection into Czech Village via 16th Avenue SE. Planned infrastructure — wide sidewalks along 16th, recreational trails in the flood control system and the Sleeping Giant bridge — should spur activity between the two districts, city leaders and investors say.

“There’s a lot of room in NewBo for growth to happen,” said Seth Gunnerson, a city planner. “You can see all the grass on the aerial. There’s much more potential for development.”

The 16th Avenue extension is a step in a decades-old brownfield redevelopment effort. In the late 1990s, the old Iowa Steel site, 415 12th Ave. SE, was sold to St. Wenceslaus, which in turn transferred the land as part of a swap to the city with the condition the city extend the street up to the church.

The extension is the first phase of work planned along 16th Avenue SE. City officials are planning 16th Avenue improvements between Fourth Street SE and the Cedar River, which would include upgrading pavement, intersections, new sidewalks, and parking.

Other infrastructure projects also are changing the layout of NewBo.

Nearly a mile of abandoned railroad track was removed along the Fourth Street SE corridor last winter, which also opened up development opportunities, officials said at the time. Next, the Sinclair levee and detention basin, which will provide flood protection for NewBo, is slated to be complete this fall.

City officials anticipate 10 acres of public land will be opened up for private development bids upon the completion of the detention basin.

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

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