Key building project in heart of Cedar Rapids' New Bo gets fresh legs

Developer Scott Byers says construction throttle to open in fall

A dilapidated 130-year-old house is undergoing renovation in the NewBo district of Cedar Rapids on Friday. The house is being fixed up by Save CR Heritage President Beth DeBoom, who purchased the property from the City for $3,000. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
A dilapidated 130-year-old house is undergoing renovation in the NewBo district of Cedar Rapids on Friday. The house is being fixed up by Save CR Heritage President Beth DeBoom, who purchased the property from the City for $3,000. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Festering skepticism about a much-anticipated but delayed building plan in the heart of New Bohemia has been for naught.

Local developers Scott Byers and his son, Craig, have joined forces with some initial investors in the New Bohemia Station project in a move that will see construction start this fall on the mixed-use, multistory building at the site of the former Brosh Chapel, 1020 and 1028 Third St. SE, Scott Byers said on Friday.

“We will have the throttle wide open and will start work this fall,” he said.

The city purchased and demolished the flood-damaged Brosh funeral home as part of the city’s flood-recovery buyout program. Then the city sought and secured special permission from the state of Iowa so it could redevelop vacant parcels in historic districts and in “viable commercial corridors” even if the property sits in the 100-year flood plain.

Redevelopment of the Brosh site was among the driving forces to seek the special permission.

“It’s a primo piece of land that there’s been a lot of interest in,” City Council member Pat Shey said on Friday.

Earlier this year, Shey questioned the project delay.

“It’s a key piece in completing the revitalization of New Bo. I’m just glad we might have some forward progress on this deal,” he said Friday.

In spring 2013, Byers and his son had been part of a development team that had competed against the New Bohemia Station project for a chance to build at the vacant Brosh site next to the popular NewBo City Market.

At the time, the City Council applauded both projects, but selected the New Bohemia Station project led by developer Allen Lerch over the project with the Byerses and local developer Joe Ahmann.

Scott Byers said he and his son now have joined investors Kory and Kevin Nanke and another party in the New Bohemia Station project, Byers said.

Jennifer Pratt, the city’s interim development director, on Friday said the City Council on Aug. 26 will consider amendments to its existing development agreement with New Bohemia Station LLC to incorporate project changes into the agreement.

Byers said the project will continue to be architecturally attractive and will continue to feature retail and office space and market-rate loft apartments.

However, dropped from the New Bohemia Station project will be a 225-seat basement theater and 40 extended-stay hotel rooms. The investors have not had success identifying a hotel manager interested in the project, Byers said.

The project was a four-story, $6.5-million one when the City Council first saw it about 18 months ago. In January 2014, the project grew to a five-story one with a cost of $11.4 million as the council extended the project start date and upped the property-tax break from 40 percent to 100 percent over 10 years.

However, a July 1, 2014, construction start target came and went without any dirt on the site being moved.

Byers, a Realtor at Gibbs Lamb Drown in Cedar Rapids, on Friday said the project now will cost less than $11.4 million and is more likely to be a four-story one than a five-story one.

‘I’m just a huge fan’

“I’m very enamored with New Bo,” Byers said, explaining his continued interest in investing there.

He said Cedar Rapids has lacked a place like the downtown of yesteryear that attracted people to eat, shop and work. New Bohemia can fill some of that role, he said.

“It’s that gathering spot for the community,” he said. “To me, if I have an out-of-town visitor, it’s now the place where we go. I’m just a huge fan.”

Jennifer Pruden, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, on Friday called the vacant former Brosh site “one of the prime spots” available in the district for development. It fronts on New Bohemia’s main street, Third Street SE, and sits across 11th Avenue SE from the NewBo City Market.

“It’s obviously going to be a high-traffic area, and we’re excited to see a project finished on that site,” Pruden said.

Dale Todd, president of New Bohemia property-owners group Southside Development Board, said on Friday that the board had wondered if the New Bohemia Station project would get built as the months passed.

“The new version of this project, coupled with an experienced developer with the financial capacity to build it right, is a win-win for the district and community,” Todd said.

This week, the City Council approved an agreement with the Union Pacific Railroad, in which the city will purchase the abandoned rail corridor that runs behind the Brosh and NewBo City Market properties and through the former site of the Sinclair meatpacking plant.

Removing the rail line will open up an area for parking for the market, the New Bohemia Station project and the city-owned redevelopment site behind the market where the Iowa Iron Works plant once stood. The new Geonetric Inc. office building just opened across the street from the Iowa Iron Works site.

City Council member Ann Poe, on Friday said there was a little “anxiousness” about the future of the New Bohemia Station project and some questions from the public about why the project was taking so long to start.

“I wanted to see people get going on it,” Poe, who is a former director of the NewBo City Market, said in a phone interview. “But for the most part, I don’t think we ever doubted that something would go in.

... I’m driving down Third Street now, and it’s absolutely beautiful with the streetscaping that we’ve put in place, the market is thriving, the shops . We just want to keep that moving forward.”

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