116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SOLON — Even before Cheryl Maloney moved to Solon, she knew there was “something magical” about the city in northern Johnson County.
Maloney, who has family in Cedar Rapids, moved from Chicago to Solon in October 2020. Less than a year later, she opened The Eat Shop Bakery in August 2021.
“There's bakeries in Iowa City and some in Cedar Rapids, but there was a huge need here, and we just had no idea what it was going to be like,” Maloney said. “It's just been phenomenal.”
The Eat Shop is located on Main Street — a two-lane street blending old and new with access to a variety of local businesses. Solon’s Main Street is home to Big Grove Brewery, The Brass Fountain, sister-owned Good Vibes Cafe and it hosts the annual Solon Beef Days.
And there’s even more to come.
Solon is among the state’s 10 fastest growing cities, according to census data. With that growth come more businesses and housing, as well as long-term planning for schools, emergency services and infrastructure needs.
“We're excited about the growth, but we're also cautious about how it happens, and none of us want to take away that small town feeling,” Mayor Steve Stange said.
"We're not chasing growth like we did 20 years ago. Now, we're trying to control growth as best we can.“
Solon has grown 48 percent in the last decade — from 2,037 residents in 2010, to 3,018 in 2020. The decade before that — from 2000 to 2010 — the population grew by 73 percent from 1,177 to 2,037 residents.
The average household size in Solon is three people, with the median household income at $83,897, according to the State Data Center.
City Administrator Cami Rasmussen said among the reasons for the growth is Solon’s location. Being close to Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty is appealing for those who want to work in a city and live in a smaller town.
Rasmussen added that individuals who grew up in Solon often return to raise their families here. Solon’s city motto is “A place to put down roots.”
“We have a lot of people who are returning to the community that were raised here and want that same experience for their families,” Rasmussen said. “Then we have other families who are moving to the community who are looking for that home away from home.”
Role of city staff and council
The city’s growth is top of mind for city staff and the six-member Solon City Council.
Rasmussen has been involved in Solon city government for almost 25 years. She was the city clerk and served on the city council and as mayor before stepping into the city administrator position.
Stange, a lifelong Solon resident, has been on the city council since 2006 and mayor since 2014.
“I think that's the value that both Cami and I bring to the table, not only being on the council but being here a long time is we know what works, we know what didn't work,” Stange said.
Rasmussen said elected officials “do not want to place the burden of growth on the existing residents.” Instead, the cost of sewer plant upgrades, new streets, new wells and other infrastructure needs is funded by new growth and developers.
"That has helped create some balance in our growth and helped growth be a little slower managed,“ Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen added there have been growing pains as well, primarily with the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.
Both Rasmussen and Stange credited Solon’s schools for playing a role in attracting families.
The Solon Community School District has about 1,500 students with a steady growth of 20 to 40 students each year, Superintendent Davis Eidahl said.
The school district anticipated the potential for accelerated growth and took steps in 2015 to plan, revising its open enrollment policy to more accurately predict that growth.
In 2017, the board completed a 15-year facilities plan by building a new intermediate elementary school.
The board is working on a new 15-year plan and will begin with community input in August, Eidahl added.
Building more housing — but watching the cost
The cost of housing nationwide has increased, including in Solon. The typical value of a home in Solon is $410,147, which has increased 18 percent over the past year, according to Zillow.
The increased cost and the need to keep housing affordable is on the city’s mind as the growth continues, Stange said.
“The thought was when I got on the council that growth was going to have people that lived in these older homes move to newer homes and then open the older homes up for new couples to come in. But the problem is that older homes aren't that far in price from new homes anymore,” Stange said.
With those concerns in mind, the Watts Group is building nearly 300 units on the northwest side. They take into consideration residents’ different price points and stages of life — from just out of college to starting a family to retiring, said Adam Hahn, director of construction services with Watts Group.
Trail Ridge Estates is a total of 291 units, with a mix of single family, duplex and three-plex lots. The land has already been annexed into city limits.
Construction will take place in phases over 15 to 20 years, Hahn said. Rasmussen said the development came at the right time and “creates something for everyone.”
The final phase of Old Mill Creek is underway and will add another 65 lots, Rasmussen said. Old Mill Creek is across the street from Trail Ridge Estates.
On the east side of town, another 36 single-family homes will be added as part of a development near Saddleback Ridge Golf Course.
New fire station nearing completion
The city is anticipating finishing its new fire station in the coming weeks, Rasmussen said. Ground was broken last September on the $4.2 million firehouse, which is funded by public donations, general obligation bonds and local-option sales tax revenue.
Solon residents last year approved expanding use of the city’s local-option sales tax to include emergency and recreation facilities. The new fire station was one of the main reasons for the vote.
Local-option sales tax money also will be used by the city to help fund a new satellite office of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in the former Solon City Hall at 223 S. Iowa St.
The satellite office would be a place for deputies to meet with the public, take reports, conduct interviews and follow up on calls for service.
“I think that hopefully will put to bed the thoughts of having our own police department and the community understanding that the Johnson County Sheriff's Office is our law enforcement,” Stange said.
Being able to drive down Main Street and see the city’s evolution is something Rasmussen doesn’t take for granted.
“These are all people's dreams, and they're finding them here on Solon Main Street, whether it's a new building, whether it's a revitalization or whether it's an existing business,” Rasmussen said.
Just a block off Main Street the St. Mary's Catholic Church Auditorium, built in 1915, is being redeveloped to include commercial spaces, a boutique hotel and loft apartments. A clothing boutique is expected to move into one of the commercial spaces, and the intention is to add more retail, Rasmussen said.
“We have such a strong restaurant destination identity now that (the opportunity for) shopping and boutique I think is there,” Rasmussen said. “With all the new developments, it opens the door for the future and other dreams and ideas.”
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