C.R. looking to demolish Public Works building

Concept discussed at Historic Preservation Commission meeting

The Cedar Rapids Public Works Building at 1201 6th Street SW in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, November 17, 2009. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The Cedar Rapids Public Works Building at 1201 6th Street SW in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, November 17, 2009. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city is working on a plan to demolish the Public Works building and most of the rest of the complex to build anew at the same site.

Joe O’Hern, the city’s flood recovery and reinvestment director, said the $25 million proposal involves tearing down all but what is known as the Solid Waste Building and consolidating other city offices at the site, such as Forestry and Parks and Recreation. Those departments, scattered throughout the city, would join Code Enforcement, engineering departments and other offices already at the site at 1201 Sixth St. SW. The offices were repaired after damage from the Floods of 2008.

O’Hern said city staff members have been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to understand the steps needed for the project.

O’Hern did not know how far along the process had gone with the City Council, but said, “that’s the direction we’re going.”

The concept was discussed during a presentation by FEMA historic preservation specialists at Thursday night’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting.

Marlys Svendsen, historic project specialist with Iowa Homeland Security, said “it was the bargain of the century” when the city purchased the Sixth Street site for $1.5 million after Link-Belt Speeder Corp. closed in 1986.

Svendsen said the company at its peak employed 2,300 people at the site, where cranes and other machines related to highway construction were built. The buildings were constructed between 1948 and 1957.

Part of that history is why the buildings are deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and why FEMA is involved in mitigating what will happen when the buildings are demolished.

FEMA has opened a public comment period to take suggestions for mitigation measures to offset the Public Works/Link-Belt Speeder site.

Ann Schmid, historic preservation specialist with FEMA, noted that the former Barron Motor Supply/Bennett Tire and Battery, 702-706 Second Ave. SE, which was demolished and is where the central Fire Station will be built, has the same process under way.

The Sinclair meatpacking plant, which had 11 structures eligible for the National Register, also will have mitigation measures taken. Those buildings were demolished after the floods and fires.

Suggestions already made include having a Sinclair historic booklet made and installing signs designating where the Lincoln Highway had been.

That didn’t sit well with members of the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Is anyone else upset at the barrage of history that’s been torn down and is being slated to be torn down?” Vice Chairman Bradley Fritz said. “We lost a lot in 2008 and we just keep tearing it down.”

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