Business

New Czech Village building owner wants 'new vitality' for the area

Mary Kay Novak McGrath has acquired multiple properties in the district

Mary Kay Novak McGrath has recently purchased the building that formerly housed restaurant Sauce and the building next door which houses The Create/Exchange, Photographed in the Czech Village in Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 22, 2018. McGrath has purchased several properties in the neighborhood with plans to restore or renovate, working with the existing tenants. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Mary Kay Novak McGrath has recently purchased the building that formerly housed restaurant Sauce and the building next door which houses The Create/Exchange, Photographed in the Czech Village in Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 22, 2018. McGrath has purchased several properties in the neighborhood with plans to restore or renovate, working with the existing tenants. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Late last month, Mary Kay Novak McGrath became one of the largest landlords on Czech Village’s main business strip.

McGrath, who spent time in Czech Village with her grandparents while growing up in Cedar Rapids, acquired eight buildings and a vacant lot from previous owner Baron Stark on May 31.

The properties include the buildings that hold T-shirt printer Mugshots Custom Printing, craft supply store the Create/Exchange, hair salon Vlasy Salon, bar and restaurant Aces and Eights Saloon and the adjacent empty lot, a vacant residential property at 1607 C St. SW, and the building that formerly held Sauce Bar and Bistro, 1507 C St. SW.

“My grandparents used to shop here, my parents have always had businesses here, I was raised on this side of town. It’s just a very special place for me,” McGrath said.

During the past few weeks, she’s been meeting with her tenants and plotting ways to maintain the buildings and bring in new businesses.

“Right now, I’m doing triage on them. ... I’d like to bring them back to some historical look and help to bring new vitality down here, make it a place where it’s very attractive once again and bring new people down that haven’t been down here,” McGrath said.

For example, she wants to remove the stucco covering on one building and expose its original brick. She hopes to turn the vacant house into a retail space, open up a new coffee shop and has a new restaurant in line to take over the Sauce building.

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In a few years, McGrath said she’d like to construct a new building on the vacant lot next to Aces and Eights.

McGrath’s family runs the Cedar Rapids-based McGrath Auto Group, but her ownership of the Czech Village buildings is separate from that business. She purchased the buildings through her own business, Novak Investments, LLC. McGrath declined to discuss the purchase price for the properties, but city assessor records show Novak Investments acquired six parcels for about $1.84 million.

For McGrath, her purchases of eight buildings and an empty lot in the neighborhood, meant she went from retirement to focusing on revitalization of her properties in the span of about three weeks.

“I want to retain our young people and I want to attract young people. How do we do that? We do that with neighborhoods that are fun, that are a destination, that are hip,” she said.

It’s also has some of McGrath’s tenants hoping her presence can help bring new life to the district.

“I’m very excited. It’s wonderful to have a landlord who is so interested in the village and has such a desire to improve the properties. It’s a wonderful thing for the village and for my business personally,” said Jennifer Stewart, owner of the Create/Exchange.

“She seems like a really good landlord. She started taking care of things right away,” said Doyle Patterson, who co-runs Mugshots.

“I know this area is revitalizing, so a good owner like that is going to make it nice,” he said.

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Mary Poorman, Patterson’s business partner, said the revitalization of Czech Village already has begun. But upkeep of the area’s buildings are key.

“It’s just making it look like a historic Czech Village with buildings that are kept up. They don’t need to be fancy, they don’t need to be elaborate, they don’t need to be Newbo. It needs to have its own” aesthetic, she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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