BREAKING NEWS

New pitch for tallest downtown Cedar Rapids tower

Site near Paramount Theatre is second attempt to develop city land

A 25-story development is proposed for city-owned land at First Street and Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids by developer Steve Emerson (Rendering contributed by city of Cedar Rapids)
A 25-story development is proposed for city-owned land at First Street and Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids by developer Steve Emerson (Rendering contributed by city of Cedar Rapids)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Downtown Cedar Rapids’ most prolific developer is proposing his largest project yet — a 25-story building at a prominent intersection near the Paramount Theatre, according to plans released Tuesday by the city.

The corner high rise on city-owned land at First Street and Third Avenue SE would be Steve Emerson’s 47th building downtown and at 300 feet tall would be the tallest building downtown. That’s 15 feet taller than the Alliant Tower, immediately north.

“We are basically trying to figure out what the most severe needs are downtown,” Emerson said Tuesday. “Obviously a grocer is one of the first things needed downtown. It’s a food desert. Parking is a huge need, and there’s a large housing component needed.”

The city is in its second attempt to find a developer for the site since 2016. A previous project — One Park Place, which also would have been the tallest building downtown — fizzled over financing problems and missed deadlines.

A review panel will consider Emerson’s proposal in the next couple of weeks, and the City Council will vote whether to move forward, likely at the Aug. 28 council meeting. Additional approvals would be needed before the city transfers the property over the next several months.

Emerson’s unnamed project would include a ground level, full-service grocery store, a 17th-floor restaurant with patio, 100 to 120 condominiums, 21 apartments, office space, possibly a medical clinic, balconies and about 700 parking spaces. Green design is a focus with rooftop gardens, electric vehicle charging stations, bike storage and solar panels.

There would be a mini dog park on the upper levels, Emerson said.

A chain called Brothers Market would operate the grocery store, which would have glass walls that open to First Street SE and Third Avenue SE on nice days, Emerson said. Brothers, which is owned by Jared, Jay and Darian DeVries, operates in eight small towns in Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

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Emerson was the only developer to respond to a request for proposals from the city, which has owned the three parcels where the building would be located since the 2008 flood. The process began in May. Proposals were due Friday.

The space is considered one of the last pieces of prime real estate under city control in the downtown core.

“It looks great,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said. “Steve Emerson has a pretty strong track record of being able to do projects. He’s committed to the community. He knows the community. I feel Steve has a pretty good handle on what the price range needs to be and what the market will bear. That personally gives me more confidence.”

Officials hope to avoid the pitfalls of last time around.

In 2016, the council backed One Park Place, a $103 million, 28-story project. But it fell apart last fall after 18 months in the works because the developer couldn’t secure financing and missed a city-imposed deadline. Two adjacent parcels purchased for the previous project aren’t part of Emerson’s plans.

In the first round in 2016, Emerson had pitched a $33 million, 11-story project featuring housing, a grocery store and a medical clinic. But the city passed on that, along with passing on a 14-story lofts concept from Fred Timko.

Emerson’s new project is significantly larger mainly due to an increasing demand for housing downtown, he said.

Emerson said he is confident he can pull off the project.

“What I’ve done as an approach is pursue equity from a whole bunch of people,” he said. “I am looking to invite everyone in to participate in the equity or development side. It’s not going to be a big tower I would own. I have a pretty strong equity portion somewhat committed.”

The project is expected to include public subsidies, but those details and a project timeline will be discussed at a later date, said Jennifer Pratt, the city’s director of community development.

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City officials are pleased with the proposal. Early on, officials were expecting something in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 stories, so the grander scale came as a welcome surprise.

“It’s a beautiful building, and it meets a lot of our needs downtown,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said. “We need the parking in that area, a grocery store, housing. But we have a ways to go regarding a development agreement.”

“We are happy to see it still is in that same scale,” Pratt said. “This is what we were hoping for with the first RFP process; it really raised the bar and expanded vision of what could go there.”

Pratt said the city would include more deadlines to ensure the project stays on track, but people should still anticipate a lengthy schedule. Some felt the city gave to much rope to One Park Place.

“A project this large and complex, people have to understand it will take more time than we are used to for a traditional, smaller project,” Pratt said. “We will make sure we have milestones set out.”

Emerson said the best-case scenario is eight months for design followed by a two-year construction timeline. However, he noted with such a large complex project, adjustments and changes can be expected.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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