CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County metro areas have seen more than $1.6 billion in construction since 2016, according to a review of public and private sector projects by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.
The growth includes 125 projects of $1 million or more, said Ron Corbett, business retention and expansion strategist for the Economic Alliance and former Cedar Rapids mayor. Development has been strong and widespread, primarily locally generated, and housing has been a key ingredient, Corbett noted as three take-aways from the review.
“There’s an untold story of all the development that has taken place in our community,” Corbett said. “Maybe this is a new normal to see these take place in our community.
“It is really quite impressive.”
Corbett made his comments during a presentation last week to the Cedar Rapids Thursday Noon Optimists club, which meets weekly at Waypoint Services. Earlier in the week, Corbett gave a similar presentation at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Rotary.
On Feb. 5, Corbett is scheduled to present to the Ex Club, a men’s business club, at the Cedar Rapids Country Club.
Corbett said investment has occurred across all sectors including commercial, industrial, financial and manufacturing. While existing business reinvestment has accounted for much of the growth, one example of new industry is Acreage Holdings’ $5 million medical marijuana manufacturing plant.
In same cases, projects have been in the works for years, such as the seven years it took Collins Community Credit Union to pull the trigger on a $46 million headquarters last year, he said.
“You can’t take this stuff for granted,” Corbett said. “Sometimes these projects take years in the making before they actually come to fruition.”
The review did not compare the pace of development compared to other cities, but Corbett said for Cedar Rapids it is the strongest is has been since the late 1990s,
In responding to questions from the lunchtime crowd, Corbett said developer Steve Emerson’s $72.9 million, 25-story downtown structure — with a grocery store, condos, apartments, rooftop patios and more on city land at 101 and 109 Third Ave. SE and 312 First St. SE, adjacent to the Paramount Theatre — still is on track for a fall 2019 ground breaking.
“He didn’t get a brownfield grant, so he still is looking for a few (ways to fill) funding gaps right now,” Corbett said.
On another front, Corbett said Jim Happel’s Ellis Landings 27-unit housing project on the Cedar River, in partnership with Emerson, has most of the condos sold. But the project hit a snag working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
One attendee asked why private companies have the expectation of getting public incentives to help fund their projects. In Cedar Rapids, most high profile projects, particularly those in downtown area, qualify for some form of public assistance.
“It struck me Cargill, being one of the largest companies in the world, why do we need to help them?” the woman asked of the corporation seeking a $429,800 state grant and $367,700 in local tax breaks over 10 years as a match for the state grant to support a $37 million investment in its soybean plant.
Corbett defended the public aid, noting that Cargill would not qualify for state aid if the city did not chip in, and that it’s a competition to get large companies to invest when they have plants all over.
The project would allow Cargill to protect the 48 existing jobs, but does not call for adding jobs.
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“We compete for plant improvements for these larger companies,” Corbett said. “The match the city put together is minuscule compared to the benefit of the $37 million investment.”
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