CEDAR RAPIDS — Emily Meyer loves old things. Big old things, like buildings.
And as owner of New Leaf Redevelopment Consulting, which she started in 2015, Meyer now gets to work as a consultant helping others navigate the complicated tasks related to restoring historically significant properties.
“I love crawling around in scary spaces and envisioning what they could become,” she said.
A real estate development expert — specifically promoting sustainability and community redevelopment through historic preservation and in-fill — Meyer’s work has her shepherding other developers through the restoration process.
“I talk owners through things when they are considering a project, tell them how the process works, what the timing might be like,” she explained. “I follow the project through from before the beginning to past the end, helping them to create a package of incentives and to ensure the projects remain compliant to the stipulations of the funding.”
Before starting New Leaf, Meyer worked for eight years at Ryan Companies in Cedar Rapids.
“I learned a ton there,” she said, noting it’s where she first was introduced to working with historic tax credits.
“While historic preservation had always been an interest, the flood of 2008 heighten the need for expertise while restoring all the historic properties that were flood-damaged,” Meyer said.
The first major project Meyer worked on was the renovation and restoration for CSPS Hall in NewBo.
“I was so excited to help out when I found out they were fixing up that building, which is one that I love,” she recalled. “It was a great pilot project for me.”
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That project spurred the idea to look into which other flood-impacted buildings would be eligible for historic tax credits during restoration. It turns out there were plenty, from Theatre Cedar Rapids and City Hall — then the Federal Courthouse — to Orchestra Iowa’s office building and the Paramount Theatre.
“Since the flood of 2008, there have been more than 60 projects in Cedar Rapids alone that used historic tax credits,” she said. “We have done a great job of using them, plus we have a great development and construction community here, too.”
Getting to work on such projects has been extremely rewarding, Meyer said. “When I go to something at the Paramount now, I have a sense of ownership. And I really go think of Cedar Rapids as my hometown, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel.
“I also love the variety,” she added. “There are days I am walking through buildings in extreme disrepair and then other days I’m being detail-oriented and working through the government tax credit programs.
“These tax credits have done so much not only to preserve buildings but also to generate economic activity. Study after study shows that they do. “
Meyer has become an expert in working with state and federal historic tax credits, brownfield and grayfield incentives, Workforce Housing or Enterprise Zone incentives, New Markets Tax Credit and facade improvement programs, among others.
This type of work is not for the impatient, Meyer said.
“It has been a decade-long process for some of these projects,” she noted. “Many last two or three years. This takes time.”
Meyer credits some volunteer work during architectural salvage right after college with spurring her interest.
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“I loved working with my hands,” she said. “I learned about this piece by piece while fixing up old houses in Iowa City.”
When Meyer felt ready to buy her first home, it’s no surprise that she selected a historic home in Cedar Rapids that needed some TLC. She’s since moved to another historic home, but her first home is now one of two residential properties that is the second component of Meyer’s business, New Leaf Historic Properties, manages and operates as short- and long-term Airbnb rentals.
As past member of the Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission, Meyer also is heavily involved with the not-for-profit organization Save CR Heritage, having served on the board since the group was founded in 2012. The organization is focused on preservation and public education through tours and workshops.
In such a niche industry, Meyer said there is enough work just in the Cedar Rapids area to keep her busy. But because Iowa’s incentives are better than some surrounding states’ programs, she’s doing work in other communities, too. She’s working on a project in the northside neighborhood of Dubuque right now.
“It’s a crazy beautiful, super difficult and complicated project,” she said. “It’s a 175,000-square-foot structure that looks like a castle that was truly crumbling.”
And now, not only does Meyer live in a historic home but she also works in one as well, having just moved her office into the Averill House, one of the remaining mansions on Mansion Hill adjacent to downtown Cedar Rapids.
“It’s a thrill to go to work in this beautiful space every day. They’ve done a great job keeping it in tact but offering the amenities that modern businesses need.”
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At a glance
• Owner: Emily Meyer
• Business: New Leaf Redevelopment Consulting and New Leaf Historic Properties
• Address: 1120 2nd Ave SE, Cedar Rapids
• Phone: (319) 431-3080
• Website: www.newleafhistoric.com