Business

Momentum building in Kingston Village after $86 million in investments

$86 million in investment over 6 years, with casino land to come

Popoli Ristorante sits at the corner of Third Avenue SW, with newer residential developments along First Street SW in the Kingston Village district of Cedar Rapids. The district has seen at least $86 million in investment since 2014, most of it from the private sector. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Popoli Ristorante sits at the corner of Third Avenue SW, with newer residential developments along First Street SW in the Kingston Village district of Cedar Rapids. The district has seen at least $86 million in investment since 2014, most of it from the private sector. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Kingston Village, on the west bank of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, is nigh unrecognizable compared to what it looked like just five years ago.

The district has undergone a makeover since city officials formally delineated its boundaries in June 2013 — ranging north to south from Interstate 380/First Avenue West to Eighth Avenue SW; and east to west from the river to Sixth Street SW.

What once was a smattering of empty, flood-ravaged properties will have seen at least $86 million invested in 16 developments between 2014 and 2020 when some of the projects will be completed.

Those figures are poised to grow in the coming years, once Cedar Rapids officials agree on a plan for the 8 open acres reserved for a casino that state regulators turned down twice in four years.

City officials listed development of that vacant land as No. 1 on a list of “key impact sites,” where a distinct “postcard” project could be built.

The city council recently set a timeline for moving ideas forward. The public will be asked for ideas at a Nov. 12 open house. A request for proposals will go out by year’s end, and, it’s hoped, an agreement could be signed with a developer in the summer.

Economic development analyst Caleb Mason said the city plans to work “hand in glove” with the private sector to find a financially feasible idea that transforms the land into an entertainment destination — something beyond a regular residential or commercial project.

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“We’ll play to the city’s strengths and the developer’s strengths, marry those together and come up with the best solution and ensure that it’s thoughtfully planned out,” Mason said.

The Gazette received hundreds of social media responses to a recent article that asked readers what they’d like to see built. Ideas included an indoor recreational facility, a water park, a skating rink, a Dave and Busters, Topgolf and a brewery.

Kingston Village falls within one of three federal Opportunity Zone tracts in Cedar Rapids, which means, because the land is designated a low-income urban area, investors can defer, reduce or exempt capital gains tax payments on their development.

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Other developments in the village are more imminent.

B.J. Hobart, of Hobart Historic Restoration, said within the next two weeks she is aiming to open Bari Italian, a new restaurant in her company’s Metropolitan building, 450 First St. SW, where it will join Quinton’s Bar and Deli.

Hobart said, she hopes to submit plans next year to the city for Savoy, a mixed-use project with market-rate apartments and a restaurant, on vacant land her company owns between its existing Mott Lofts and Chelsea buildings.

Hobart said her company does not typically do much advertising because its apartments seem to sell or rent quickly based on word of mouth alone — a reality she attributed to nearby amenities, like McGrath Amphitheatre and riverside trails.

“The big draw, from the feedback we get from people, for wanting to live in Kingston Village is because you don’t have the hustle and bustle per se of living in NewBo or living downtown,” Hobart said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff going on right outside your window.”

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In addition, two apartment developments are scheduled for completion in 2020:

• The 245 Kingston complex, a 45-unit development — on Second Street SW between Second and Third Avenues SW — being built by M&W Properties and former Iowa Hawkeye Nate Kaeding on behalf of Built to Suit.

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• The 26-unit Kingston Landing conversion of the former Cedar Rapids school district administrative building at 346 Second Ave. SW.

Fred Timko, of Down to Earth Development, said his company earlier this year bought three parcels at the corner of Second Street and Fourth Avenue SW, where he hopes to one day erect a four-story building.

Timko, who restored the former Peoples Savings Bank and built Kingston Commons, said he sees Kingston Village’s growth continuing, albeit at a slower pace, as the number of city-owned properties decreases and developers turn to buying properties from private owners.

“Just putting sites together is going to be more challenging now,” he said. “There aren’t many empty lots from when they tore down houses after the flood.”

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Rebecca Davidson, co-owner of Dash Coffee Roasters, which opened at 120 Third Ave. SW in November 2017, said the new housing developments have been a boon for her business.

“We love having those regular people,” she said. “The southwest side of the river wasn’t somewhere people were venturing prior to two years ago. So as more housing develops there, they (the housing and businesses) work in each other’s favor. People feel more comfortable living there, and there’s more reason for people to come over and see what housing is available.”

Jude Villafana, managing partner with Popoli Ristorante, at 101 Third Ave. SW in the former Peoples Savings Bank, agreed and likened rivers to “the Great Wall of China” in terms of them being barriers people have to cross.

From that standpoint, Villafana said, each new business that opens in Kingston Village creates another reason to visit the district, rather than representing any threat to existing businesses.

“They’re drawing more and more people over to this side of the river and changing people’s view of (the district),” he said. “It’s simply our job to execute, to create that credibility that this side needs to build.”

BY THE NUMBERS

• 16: Number of new developments in Kingston Village, 2014-20

• 393: New housing units added since 2014 (274 market-rate, 119 affordable)

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• $86 million: Overall investment ($77 million from private sector; $9 million in city incentives)

• $55 million: District’s assessed value on Jan. 1, 2019 — compares to $46 million in 2017; $14 million in 2013; $24.5 million in 2008

Source: City of Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids City Assessor’s Office

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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