116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A proposal to transform an empty tract of city land once reserved for a casino into a Big Grove Brewery, an entertainment center and outdoor recreation space is moving forward as officials embrace the potential to attract drive-by visitors and locals to what they hope will become a downtown destination.
The Cedar Rapids City Council at its noon Tuesday meeting will consider approving preliminary terms and public financial incentives of a $71 million mixed-use development at First Street and First Avenue W. This land had been earmarked for a casino and related development until regulators twice voted against issuing a gaming license for a Cedar Rapids venue.
Despite market uncertainty amid the pandemic, the nine-member City Council in June 2020 authorized City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and staff to negotiate a term sheet for the project with local developers, 1st and 1st West LLC, who said then they were committed to bringing the project to life.
The development is advancing to the council even though the Iowa Economic Development Authority in June had provisionally awarded Cedar Rapids only $9 million through its competitive Reinvestment District program — $30.5 million less than the city had requested to help fund this and other “transformational” city projects.
“The developer has worked really hard to design an innovative place that we think will be very attractive to Cedar Rapids community and to our visitors,” Pomeranz said.
Interim Economic Development Manager Caleb Mason said the city hired Zack Mannheimer, who founded the not-for-profit Des Moines Social Club, a venue using art, theater and music to enrich the community, as a consultant to help Cedar Rapids tap into existing assets for the project.
“How do you make this uniquely Cedar Rapids so that this isn’t just any development around any mid-tier market, but … build on our strengths?” Mason said of Mannheimer’s assistance.
In the last year, Mason said the city and developers have adjusted original design plans, creating a “central park” element stretching two blocks down the center of the development to enhance use of green space and make a pedestrian walkway area. Underneath, there will be stormwater management with underground detention.
Mason said the developer will hire a landscape architect to help with consistency of elements such as lighting that will be part of the outdoor gathering space. Now, parking would be consolidated in one structure. The number of required spaces still is in the works.
For an improved pedestrian view of the facility, Mason said one side will potentially include items such as a climbing wall and a large screen to be used for events or on game days. The Second Avenue SW side of the development would be lined with two- to four-story row house units.
Overall, the development could bring 130 residential units plus some owner-occupied condos and town houses online. It is uncertain what the price points would be on those, Mason said, but that could range from housing costs for people earning 60 to 80 percent of the area median income to higher-end costs with the condos.
On the north block, Mason said city staff considered how this private development interacted with plans for Cedar River recreation with anticipated future construction of a 5-in-1 Dam bypass channel, elements of the permanent Flood Control System and First Street SW.
The plan is to realign First Street SW away from the river and raise part of it 14 feet, Mason said. This would help ease traffic flow but ensure that easy access remains to Interstate 380 to attract people to this new development while connecting it to the river when recreational components are available.
“We’ve found this to be a win-win that preserves keeping First Street open and it also creates some interest with the road,” Mason said. “We’ll work on ensuring that there’ll be some raised medians and plantings and making it an interesting, unique feature with the idea that people will be moving back and forth there.”
Under the proposed term sheet, the city would provide a 20-year reimbursement of 85 percent of the tax increments generated for each respective building. The equivalent of at least 250 full-time staff would be employed. This development would be done in three phases, starting in 2022 and wrapping up by 2030.
In the first phase, a 43,530 square-foot development called Pickle Palace would bring pickleball, rooftop courts, a bar and grill, event space, games and a third-floor roof deck and bar.
“You’ll be able to look on either side toward the river or toward the central park area and see all the activity that’s going on,” Mason said.
An 8,000 square-foot Big Grove Brewery remains in the plans. But easy, Eddy — it likely will be in 2023 when the brewery brings its award-winning India pale ale by that name and the rest of its collection of craft beers and other alcoholic beverages to Cedar Rapids. Mason said construction is anticipated to start spring or early 2022 and take about a year.
The rest of this phase includes the construction of two mixed-use buildings creating commercial space and about 72 residential units, to be complete by December 2025.
The second phase, likely starting June 2023 and ending December 2027, would bring a four-story residential building with 32 units, a mixed-use building, eight town homes and a city-owned parking ramp.
Mason said the parking was part of earlier development plans, which called for a $90 to $100 million minimum investment, but would now be a separate city project for an estimated $15 to $20 million.
It also may bring a potential four- or five-story “boutique,” upscale select service or extended stay hotel with approximately 100 rooms under a brand the city deems acceptable. This would have a dual-sided entrance to spill onto the outdoor area with seating, bag games and other activities but also an entrance along First or Second avenue SW, Mason said.
The third and final phase, with an anticipated June 2024 start and December 2030 completion, would bring a proposed 25,000 to 30,000 square-foot entertainment center that could be converted to mixed-use, office or hotel space. Three mixed-use buildings would provide some commercial and residential space.
Mason said the final development agreement would come to council later formalizing the project terms and allowing for some flexibility in uses to accommodate potential users.
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