No takers on A&W site — yet

But Cedar Rapids development consultant, neighbors still hopeful

The Ellis A&W, photographed in July, is the oldest drive-in restaurant in Cedar Rapids. The A&W was inundated with flood
The Ellis A&W, photographed in July, is the oldest drive-in restaurant in Cedar Rapids. The A&W was inundated with floodwaters in June 2008 and did not reopen. (Cindy Hadish/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — No developer showed up Wednesday at City Hall to discuss the future of the flood-damaged A&W Family Restaurant on Ellis Boulevard NW that some in the neighborhood want to save.

Nonetheless, Richard Luther, a local development consultant, said after the meeting with city planners that he expected some kind of development proposal to surface for the ’50s and ’60s-era drive-in restaurant by the city’s Oct. 17 deadline.

Luther, owner of Creative Development Solutions in Cedar Rapids, said he has talked to two or three developers who are studying the redevelopment prospects for the former A&W. He also is providing assistance to the neighborhood-based Northwest A&W Solutions Group, which has succeeded in convincing the City Council to pull the A&W property off the city’s demolition list to see if someone is willing to redevelop it.

The group itself has said it is not a developer but instead is trying to attract a developer to invest in the property.

Mike Chismar, a member of the Solutions Group, left the Wednesday session at City Hall optimistic that a developer would bring the A&W back to life even if did not necessarily continue on with the A&W franchise name.

Chismar said the group’s belief is that other commercial and neighborhood redevelopment will take off if the neighborhood can get redevelopment at the A&W site in the near future rather than years from now.

“We’re trying to show we’re getting on with it,” he said.

City Council member Chuck Swore, who attended the Wednesday planning session, said afterward that renovating the existing A&W building is complicated. The site, he said, likely would be redeveloped at some point even if the current effort falls short and the existing building is demolished.

Luther said one complicating factor is the need for a developer to secure financing for the renovation without having the ability to secure the deed to the property as collateral until after the renovation is complete and the city turns the deed over to the new owner. The city now owns the property, at 1132 Ellis Blvd. NW, which was purchased with federal funds as part of the city’s buyouts of flood-damaged property.

In addition, the city wants developers to step up quickly so the city knows if the property needs to be demolished or not. The city has access to federal funds for demolitions now, but that funding runs out at the end of 2012.

Any successful development proposal for the site will require the developer to set aside money to pay for the demolition should the redevelopment project fail and the city’s access to federal disaster funds runs its course.The A&W sits in the 100-year flood plain, and city planners note any developer will face extra costs to put a renovated structure one foot above the 100-year flood plain.

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