116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Just a few years after the city of Cedar Rapids signed off on an action plan to foster a more vibrant College District area encompassing three neighborhoods in the northeast quadrant, major development work is beginning to infuse new life into the area.
The College District name reflects an identity taking shape in recent years in the neighborhoods including Mound View, Uptown and Irish District. The label also acknowledges major projects at the two colleges encompassed in this area: Coe College and Mount Mercy University.
After gathering public input, the city in December 2018 adopted an action plan to take stock of opportunities in this area and set a plan for growth. This plan called for more housing options at different price points, developing the area while maintaining historic character and enhancing safety and a sense of community, among other things.
The planning process included the mostly commercial area along and a block on either side of First Avenue between 10th and 20th streets.
What’s happened since?
Several development projects in the coming years will bring more vibrancy to this area.
Adam Lindenlaub, a planner in the city’s community development division, said much of the progress the city has made on the action plan pertains to zoning and land use, which influences how the city and other stakeholders can use the plans.
“What we can do related to that is highlight to the world that in this specific area, there is a desire for certain things or there is a need for certain things,” Lindenlaub said. “ … And what we found is developers are using that to really then do their due diligence, but they’re being told that there is a certain need or desire in an area, and it might be an area that they really hadn’t looked at before or it’s been a while since they’ve looked at it.”
Following these planning efforts, Lindenlaub said the city has seen a combination of reinvestment in existing properties and in new development.
Notably, the Cedar Rapids City Council in November signed off on a development agreement for a $32.6 million mixed-use complex at the former Terex site, which will bring 186 new housing units — a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
The Hub LLC, an entity of Hiawatha-based Ahmann Companies, anticipates having all three buildings that make up the 200,000-square-foot development at 916 16th St. NE, near Mount Mercy, finished in 2025. In addition to residential space, this development will include 6,400 square feet of commercial space, a rooftop patio and first-floor parking.
And the Watts Group, a Coralville-based developer, is pursuing a $22.2 million redevelopment of land at 1953 First Ave. SE, west of the historic Brucemore estate, for market-rate rental housing units with amenities. The City Council has approved incentives for the 1.6-acre site to turn it into two new buildings with a 6,000-square-foot amenity area connecting them, bringing 48 units online.
The higher education institutions also have had major development projects.
Mount Mercy in 2019 opened the Rinderknecht Athletic Center, a transformed warehouse at 939 17th St. NE. It offers batting cages, golf hitting and putting greens, a sprint track, an athletic training room and more.
Plus, Coe completed a $21 million athletic and recreation center including classrooms, a student fitness center, wrestling practice facility and a new gymnasium for Kohawk basketball and volleyball.
Phil Wasta, a founding board member of the College District when it was called Uptown, said developers seem to be interested in building near the city core, but somewhat outside of it.
The district is “still well-connected to bike trails and public transportation and near restaurants and retail, but still in the city as opposed to a suburb.”
When the city recognizes the challenges and opportunities of an area, it can incentivize development in such spaces through certain economic development programs, which Wasta said is making it possible for developers to take risks here.
To avoid the area becoming overbuilt, Wasta said he does not expect to see a “burst” of development.
“I think you’re going to see it over time and sequentially,” Wasta said.
But he does see the current housing market providing an opportunity to revitalize the “middle” single-family housing stock in Mound View, as well as shifting forces surrounding student housing for Coe and Mount Mercy.
“It isn't the neighborhood you drive through to get to where you live,” Wasta said. “It can be where people live.”
Revitalization efforts of nearby amenities also likely will have a trickle-down effect in the area. In the coming years, the $20 million grassroots ConnectCR initiative will transform Cedar Lake into a recreation destination and construct a pedestrian bridge spanning the Cedar River to the south.
“That will absolutely be transformative,” Wasta said.
One of the action items still in progress is the city is working with partners, including the colleges and Cedar Rapids Transit, to improve knowledge of the transit system.
Lindenlaub said transportation is a key element to keeping connectivity with other parts of the city, including Cedar Lake. The CeMar Trail is complete through Mound View now, which Lindenlaub said will link the area not only to Cedar Lake, but to other parts of the city as well.
Wasta said the group’s board of directors continues to meet monthly, but because of COVID-19 stepped back from holding quarterly large group meetings.
The team was working on a signage initiative to support restaurants and retailers in the area, Wasta said, but has chosen not to pursue those things until COVID-19 cases level out more. In the meantime, he said communication and engagement with the partners within the area are key.
Comments: (319) 398-8494; email@example.com