116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
HIAWATHA — A yearslong quest to create a town center in Hiawatha is picking up steam.
Between a library expansion, a new plaza under construction in front of City Hall and a couple of large, mixed-use developments in the works, the city of 7,300 is preparing for future growth, City Manager Kim Downs said.
“We’ve been the community that used to be just driven through,” Downs said. “We are not the same community. We don’t look like the same community.”
The new projects are the latest plans in establishing a downtown area in Hiawatha after a big setback.
In 2019, the city approved a $72 million mixed-use development project that would’ve been the biggest private investment in the city’s history. Hiawatha Midtown, planned for 155 Robins Road, was planned to have town houses, condos and apartments as well as commercial space across over 7 acres. But the project was scrapped when grant funding and some private funding didn’t materialize.
“A big portion of this over the years is having the patience for all of this to come together,” Downs said. “It has taken time and I think our citizens and business community see that.”
Now in 2021, new, smaller mixed-use projects are in the works to help establish the heart of Hiawatha.
“We are still trying to decide what to call it,” Downs said. “Cedar Rapids has a downtown. Marion has an uptown. We might call it midtown. It’s a question of what do we call ourselves?”
The latest project soon to be open will be the Village Center Plaza, a community gathering space with an amphitheater in front of City Hall where North Center Point Road, Emmons Street and Robins Road meet. The intersection was redeveloped in 2017 and dubbed the Village Center Intersection.
Coming in at a little over $1 million, the plaza is scheduled to be completed this fall by Mccomas-Lacina Construction of Iowa City. The goal to open the plaza is the end of September, Downs said.
“Concrete is being poured so we’re really starting to see it forming,” Downs said.
The Village Center Plaza comes after years of beautification along Center Point Road, including updated street lighting and landscaping.
Downs said the plaza will have public restrooms, lighting and a water feature as well as picnic tables, benches and bike racks.
“It will also feature canopies and it will look really sharp and be the exclamation point of this road,” she said.
The location of the plaza is situated in the middle of the connection between the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and the Cedar River Trail, making it a potential stop for bicyclists.
“This will be an awesome spot if you need to stop while biking,” Downs said. “It’s not an official trailhead but it will certainly be a benefit to people who ride along here.”
Downs said the goal of the plaza is to be a community center for the people in businesses, homes and future mixed-use developments to use. It also has the potential to host future community events.
“With everyone in the direct surrounding area between housing developments and businesses like GoDaddy, Cedar Graphics and the library, you have about 1,500 people just in this area right now that can walk to this plaza regularly,” Downs said.
Library almost triples in size
Next door to the future plaza and current City Hall is the Hiawatha Public Library, which has seen significant upgrades of its own.
Library Director Jeaneal Weeks said the library expansion had also been years in the making and is a major piece in establishing a town center in Hiawatha.
Weeks, who has been the library’s director since 2003 and has served on committees to talk about the town center vision, said she’s seen visible growth since the start of the 21st century and is looking forward to growth continuing now that the library has more space.
“It’s a ‘if you build it, they will come’ situation,” Weeks said. “With the Tower Terrace projects and new developments right here in town, there will be more houses and more people. I think we’re now situated very well for all that to happen. And when people come to a community, they look at the library. They want to use it for themselves and their children. It’s a big asset for the city.”
After construction throughout most of 2020, the library has expanded from 8,543 to 22,000 square feet.
“We absolutely just needed the space,” Weeks said. “The old building was so crowded that you couldn’t walk down an aisle without having to say ‘excuse me’ to someone.”
The library expansion cost $4.2 million and was completed in early 2021. The library’s fundraising capital campaign covered $2 million and the city bonded for $1.2 million. The rest came from local-option sales tax dollars.
New developments to come
Currently, two mixed-use developments are planned — one a development with 48 units and 5,000 square feet of commercial space and a larger, multifamily complex with about 60 units and commercial space as well.
Both developments are being built near Robins Road.
“That is truly going to be the main street of Hiawatha,” Downs said. “These guys coming in and breaking ground will drive the Robins Road development.”
The larger property is set to be built off of Robins Road near Oak Brook property by The Hub LLC, part of Hiawatha’s Ahman Companies. The overall $30 million project is set to be built in five phases over five years with construction beginning this year.
The other project is estimated to be $9 million and is being built by Hodge Construction just up the road and north of the Hiawatha American Legion Hall on Robins Road.
“Both of these projects are putting their applications in through workforce housing with the state,” Downs said, referring to a state program that offers tax benefits to developments that qualify. “We need workforce housing and its value for the area and the businesses.”
Project Manager Andy Hodge said the goal is to begin the 12-month construction project in the fall.
“Well originally we would've broken ground already, but with the recent hike in material prices, it put a slowdown on things,” Hodge said. “We’re shooting for fall right now. We have to wait and see if we get workforce housing tax credits and wait to see what the lumber market does.”
Hodge said the project will be the first in Hiawatha to have underground parking and the units will consist of studios, one and two bedrooms.
“We are hoping to have a reputable fitness center in the commercial space,” he added.
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