ARTICLE

It's all but over for flood-damaged Cedar Rapids A&W

Council committee throws in towel, votes for demolition

The flood damaged A&W Family Restaurant on Ellis Blvd NW is currently owned by the city of Cedar Rapids. (Cliff Jette/Th
The flood damaged A&W Family Restaurant on Ellis Blvd NW is currently owned by the city of Cedar Rapids. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Nails in the coffin of the car hop restaurant here are being banged into place.

The City Council’s Flood Recovery Committee on Thursday voted 3-0 to demolish the last of the city’s sit-in-your-vehicle-and-order-and-eat restaurants, the flood-damaged, 51-year-old A & W Family Restaurant at 1132 Ellis Blvd. NW.

The vote dashes five years of hope by some northwest Cedar Rapids neighbors to see the A & W reopened, and it brings to an end an extended effort by the City Council to identify a developer who would fix and reopen the restaurant in exchange for the city turning over the business the city obtained through the flood-recovery buyout program.

"We tried to make this thing work," council member Justin Shields said on Thursday. "But in today’s environment, it’s just not going to. And so I think we just move on, demolish it and move on."

In the end, council member Don Karr, the committee chairman, said a City Hall stakeholder group, including neighborhood leaders and business people, concluded that the business model wouldn’t be able to keep the place open even if someone had renovated and reopened it.

Linda Seger, president of the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association and a member of the stakeholder group, told the committee that pulling the plug on the hopes for the restaurant was a "difficult choice, but we have to be realistic," she added.

The restaurant, Seger said, had taken on a status of "icon" as a reminder of a pleasant past once the 2008 hit and left it near ruin.

Five years later, though, she said some of its interior has yet to be gutted and cleaned out and the building had become a health and safety hazard. The best plan is to demolish it and prepare the lot for a new restaurant that can help Ellis Boulevard NW become a healthy commercial corridor, she said.

"It now has become a crumbling piece of structure in a neighborhood that we desperately need to move forward and advance and show positive growth and revitalization," Seger said.

Rick Davis, who had lived near the restaurant before the flood, agreed it was time for the restaurant to come down. Perhaps, he suggested, the city could try to keep the A & W sign as a piece of the city’s history.

Joe O’Hern, the city’s executive administrator for development services, recounted for the committee the lengths to which the council had gone to try to accommodate citizen interest in the A & W car hop restaurant.

In June 2011, he noted, the Flood Recovery Committee voted to demolish the A & W among 51 other commercial properties.

Subsequent to the committee vote, the neighbors convinced the full council to try and save the restaurant. One developer, Baron Stark, stepped forward 18 months ago when the council asked for development proposals. The city negotiated a development agreement with Stark, but ultimately pulled the plug on the deal in April when Stark failed to secure financing. The city asked again for proposals, but no one submitted one, except for Stark. However, Stark did not show proof of financing, O’Hern said.

O’Hern said the city has had at least one inquiry in the property if the existing building on it is demolished.

The full City Council vote on the demolition is expected to be routine.Two Sonic drive-in restaurants opened in Cedar Rapids in recent years, but closed in early 2012.

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