116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids City Council approved incentives Tuesday for a $40 million mixed-use development in the southwest quadrant, but first some urged staff to consider drafting a broader plan to strategically guide a sharp uptick in development in that part of town.
“As a city, we didn’t have a master plan for what we wanted it to all look like and how it was going to interact with one another,” said council member Dale Todd. “It seems to me that now would be the chance for us to try to do something like that on a larger scale here so that all these separate developers with all their separate projects actually interacted together so that we would have a unified, cohesive master plan development.”
Big Ben LLC, an entity associated with Hiawatha-based Ahmann Companies, applied for incentives for a phased 35-acre plan that provides for a mix of uses: owner-occupied and rental residential units, retail and office space. The site is at the northwest corner of Kirkwood Boulevard SW and Wright Brothers Boulevard SW.
The resolution approved Tuesday authorizes the city to kick in standard tax incentives — a 10-year, 50 percent reimbursement on the commercial component and a 10-year, 100 percent reimbursement on the residential space.
Council member Scott Olson, a commercial real estate broker, recused himself from voting because of financial ties to the project.
City Economic Development Analyst Caleb Mason said the improvements would generate $9.1 million in new taxes, and $4.6 million would be rebated. Cedar Rapids officials estimate the project would provide 100 jobs once built. City staff members expect to return to the council in July with a prepared development agreement.
This proposal grows a slate of work the council has approved in the rapidly developing southwest quadrant.
Construction began last year on BAE Systems' $139 million classified aerospace defense facility at the corner of 76th Avenue and Sixth Street SW — one of the largest projects in city history.
JRS Pharma, a pharmaceutical excipient company, last year announced a $15.9 million expansion project to build a 9,200 square-foot production facility and associated tank farm at its 725 41st Ave. Drive SW property.
And in February, the council gave the OK on an agreement with APD LLC for the American Prairie Project to construct a $64 million mixed-use development along and south of Wright Brothers Boulevard SW and west of Kirkwood Boulevard SW, just south of the Big Ben LLC development. This project includes four commercial buildings and 62 row houses, which will provide nearly 400 residential units once the whole phased development is complete.
Given the uptick in development in this area, Mason said existing companies have provided feedback that traffic is increasing, so city staffers are developing a plan for road improvements in the area.
“We don’t have those identified today, but we’ve engaged a consultant to develop traffic modeling that we can use for planning,” Mason said. “Then of course each of these developments have traffic studies with the particulars of the demand, which would be generated based on the specifics, so all that information gets plugged in.”
Council member Ashley Vanorny, who serves on the council’s Development Committee, said “there’s been quite a bit of chatter in the community as well focusing on these pocket neighborhoods, really trying to build that continuity of neighborhoods in our community.” She said that could help build unity beyond more identifiable neighborhoods like Wellington Heights or Kingston Village.
With many residential units being built in the area, council member Scott Overland encouraged tying the space to the trail system or creating outdoor space like a pavilion.
“I think as we go forward as we’re developing in that part of town and greenfield development in that way, that we put more effort into having usable recreational space in and around areas where hundreds of people are going to live in different residential arrangements, whether it be apartments, homes, whatever,” Overland said. “There’s a lot of land there and I really think that would be very important to have.”
Council member Ann Poe said a master plan would be a good item to place on the agenda at a future meeting of the Development Committee, which she chairs.
Poe questioned what other services and amenities — such as a pharmacy or grocery store — could be made available in the area, which is near the outskirts of Cedar Rapids with a lot of commercial space like hotels and restaurants.
“We’ve seen a lot of these developments come up,” Poe said. “Not seeing a lot of green space, not a lot of connectivity — they’re just kind of building in their own separate, big quadrants.”
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