116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Madeleine Kleppinger, a resident of the northwest Time Check neighborhood, said she has seen a “complete 180-degree transformation” of a corner where a nonprofit turned an empty lot into a food pantry.
Before Matthew 25 began to operate the Cultivate Hope Produce Rescue Pantry on Ellis Boulevard NW in 2012, Kleppinger said the vacant lot made a great spot for trash to collect and for people to lounge on the sidewalk “after a rough night out.” Now that it’s been painted and cleaned up, she sees kids riding their bikes and it has completely changed the area around it.
“I hope to see more transformations like that,” she said.
As an expansion of Matthew 25’s history of investment in the neighborhood, the organization is scheduled Tuesday to launch a capital campaign to raise $1 million and bring more transformation to life. The money will fund a new nonprofit grocery store, help build new housing and revitalize existing homes in Time Check, which sustained extensive damage in the 2008 flood.
The nonprofit already has raised over 65 percent of its goal. Among contributors are the Hall-Perrine Foundation, the Aegon Transamerica Foundation, Green State Credit Union, Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust and Frontier Co-op.
Matthew 25 Executive Director Clint Twedt-Ball said there has been uncertainty whether things would “tip in the right direction or in the wrong direction” for the neighborhood because of all the vacant lots and need for development.
“We felt like we needed to step in and help lead the charge and moving Time Check forward because of that long history that we have,” Twedt-Ball said.
Matthew 25’s relationship with Time Check spans more than a decade. It has rehabilitated over 100 homes, established Iowa’s first urban farm in 2012 and grew a front-yard program to provide garden beds and Adirondack chairs to encourage interaction among neighbors.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said the work is significant given the extensive flood damage there.
“They do a nice job of not just working with the neighborhoods but having this public-private partnership where they get churches involved and other businesses involved,” Hart said of Matthew 25.
Investment in revitalization
Once a vibrant area with small grocery stores, restaurants and shops, the neighborhood still is grappling with its journey to recover from the flood. Aaron Saylor, Matthew 25’s neighborhood building manager, said there are 47 vacant city-owned lots in the organization’s target area that will result in projects from the nonprofit.
Some houses being built on Eighth Street NW will be similar in design to those surrounding it but more modern — one-and-a-half or two stories with a porch. They will have structural insulated panels that help with energy efficiency and give the homes a higher value. And the kitchen will be at the front of the homes instead of the living room to create more interaction with the front yard.
The goal is to have one home built and one started by the end of the construction season this year, Saylor said. The lots are still in the disposition process. The eventual three homes will be for sale to homeowners at or below 80 percent of the area median income.
And on the corner of E Avenue NW and Ellis Boulevard NW, Matthew 25 envisions a 2,000 square-foot nonprofit grocery store where the food pantry is currently located.
The Cultivate Hope Corner Store is expected to open by this fall with restored glass fronts and a seating area where people can visit for educational programming centered on nutritious food options and other community events.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has classified Time Check as a food desert, said store manager Mark Elias, so the produce sold here will help supply residents with healthy, affordable food options.
This model is inspired by others in Boston and Washington, D.C., where Elias said there is a focus on offering healthier food compared with for-profit grocers. Partnerships with local producers will keep costs down on fresh produce.
“We can show them how other foods that maybe they couldn't buy before, now all of a sudden, we can make them affordable to them,” said Elias, a fourth-generation grocer. “But then also explain to them how, by eating this food, how it's better for your life long term, your health and all that — and how to make it taste good, too.”
There will still be a food pantry component, but the details are still in the works.
More changes coming
Those engaged with work in the neighborhood say they hope Matthew 25’s investment here and engagement with residents will attract more development in the area.
The initial $1 million investment will be multiplied “many times” as other local developers and entities step in with their own projects, Twedt-Ball said. He added there are plans for a pizza parlor and potentially another restaurant.
The city in the coming years has work planned on street and flood control projects that will enhance the neighborhood’s connectivity with the downtown core and incorporate permanent flood protection into Time Check.
Eventually, E and F Avenues NW will be reconfigured to simplify the design at the intersection where First Street NW, E Avenue NW, F Avenue NW and the Interstate 380 off-ramp come together. And Sixth Street NW will be extended to Ellis Boulevard NW, allowing for easier access.
City planner Seth Gunnerson, who has lived in Time Check for about two years and serves on the Healthy Time Check steering committee, said there is excitement from developers over that enhanced connectivity to Ellis Boulevard NW. That, coupled with the additional housing, and eventually flood control and park amenities in the greenway, will likely spur growth in the area.
Kleppinger said Matthew 25’s investment in the neighborhood has helped her think of her home beyond who inhabits it. Her 130-year-old house has seen storms and sheltered many before her, and she said it will continue to do so long after she lives there.
“I wouldn’t have thought that possible without Matthew 25 investing in the community,” Kleppinger said. “ … It’s not just my house, my yard and my things. It’s our city’s and our community’s.”
When: 4 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Official announcement and presentation from 5 to 5:30 p.m.
What: Open house and self-guided walking tours
Where: Cultivate Hope Urban Farm, 437 G Ave. NW
Street parking available on F Avenue NW, G Avenue NW and other nearby streets
Comments: (319) 398-8494; firstname.lastname@example.org