116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Local developers behind a $71 million transformation of long-vacant city land Tuesday touted a collaboration with the city that will result in a “destination” venue featuring a Big Grove Brewery, outdoor recreation space and potentially a hotel and entertainment center.
The Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously approved a term sheet outlining the scope of the Kingston Landing project at First Street and First Avenue W — a blank slate to be turned into a hub of activity connecting downtown, Kingston Village and eventually Cedar River recreational amenities. Two of the nine council members were absent for the vote.
Nate Kaeding, business development director for Build to Suit and one of the developers who formed 1st and 1st LLC to pursue this project, said the team took to heart that the city sought a mixed-use development that would be a quality-of-life amenity as well as a regional attraction.
“We really view this as a great public-private partnership, and with the prominence and importance of this property, we don't take that lightly, and we put a lot of work and thought into what the best fit will be for that property,” Kaeding said.
Since the project first came to council for consideration in 2019, and even since elected officials gave the green light for city staff to negotiate a term sheet in June 2020, site plans have undergone design changes.
Plans now call for an approximately 1.25-acre “central park” element to enhance use of green space and to make a pedestrian walkway area. Parking also would be in a single ramp, a separate city project for an estimated $15 to $20 million.
Interim Economic Development Manager Caleb Mason said the city plans to put some of its award through the state’s competitive Reinvestment District program toward those items. The Iowa Economic Development Authority in June provisionally awarded Cedar Rapids $9 million of the city’s original $39.5 million request, though final awards will be decided next year.
When the city submits the final application, Mason said he anticipates growth based on the revised plan with a more dense Kingston Landing project and more retail space.
Despite the smaller-than-expected provisional award, developer Joe Ahmann, owner of Hiawatha-based Ahmann Design, told The Gazette the group was confident based on its projected revenue from the development.
“We feel pretty strong with our project and the funds that (the city has) allocated, that hopefully the city can direct them for the public use with the development around the Kingston Landing,” Ahmann said.
Overall, the buildings on this development will have enhanced connectivity with the plaza, and rooftops will become an active space with options for dining, drinking and recreating — with views facing downtown and overlooking the Cedar River. City officials and developers hope these aesthetics, and the prominent “Kingston Landing” signs atop some buildings, will catch the eye of drive-by tourists on Interstate 380.
The city will provide a 20-year reimbursement of 85 percent of the tax increments generated for each respective building. A final development agreement will come to council this fall.
Construction will be done in phases, starting in 2022 with the Big Grove Brewery and a bar and grill called Pickle Palace featuring space for pickleball as well as other outdoor games and events.
“They’d start tomorrow if we were ready to go,” Ahmann said of the Pickle Palace team, “so they’re anxious to get the project underway as it’s pretty sizable.”
The second phase would largely bring mixed-use space and residential units, plus a potential “boutique” hotel with approximately 100 rooms.
The third and final phase, with an anticipated December 2030 completion, would bring a proposed entertainment center that could be converted to mixed-use, office or hotel space, and additional mixed-use buildings.
Developer Matt Swift, Big Grove co-founder and chief executive officer, said one of the coolest parts of the project is that everything connects.
“The more our customers, our guests are interacting with the surrounding environments and surrounding tenants, I think it's going to be a big deal — not just in Kingston Landing, but everything around Kingston Landing, too, so I think it's a recipe for a lot of success,” Swift said.
The site has long sat empty, as it was once intended to be occupied with a casino. After state regulators in 2014 and 2017 struck down casino proposals, Cedar Rapids looked for other uses for the land.
Council member Ann Poe recalled returning to Cedar Rapids from Council Bluffs with several city officials after the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted against awarding a gaming license to the city.
The group drove around the site, Poe recalled, and she said, “’Just wait — we’ll put something great in that site. It may not be a casino, but it’ll be great.’ That was always our hope and our expectation.”
Revamped plans for Kingston Landing “exceeded expectations” with a team effort and a focus on place-making said Poe, chair of the council’s Development Committee.
Council member Dale Todd said, “People are now moving to the city, and they're moving in the city because of projects like this.” He cited 2020 census data, which shows Cedar Rapids has grown its population by 9 percent in the last decade — representing an additional 11,384 residents.
If it were up to council member Marty Hoeger, the developers could start tomorrow, he said.
“I think this is a true tribute to two high-quality developers who probably have competed against each other on different projects over the years, who saw the vision of this corner and decided to collaborate versus compete against each other, because it is a better project for you collaborating together,” Hoeger said.
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