A $72 million mixed-use project initially billed as having the potential to form “the heart of Hiawatha” quietly fizzled out last year.
The Hiawatha City Council in early March 2019 approved the project and $890,000 in tax increment financing over a five-year construction period, scheduled to begin this past fall.
Hiawatha Midtown’s original concept called for 7.5 acres, developed in four phases to include three patio homes, 58 town houses, 203 apartments, 18 condominiums, 10 live/work spaces and 66 senior living units, plus 36,300 square feet of commercial and retail space, near city hall on Emmons Street.
Another 5.24 acres of open space with a park and connections to nearby bike trails also would have been included.
Hiawatha Midtown was said to be one of the largest projects attempted in the city’s history — one that would have created “a walkable residential, retail and entertainment district where residents and visitors feel a sense of home, and a sense of pride,” according to the project’s former website.
But around three months after the project’s approval, in June, developer Keith Billick said he had to scrap that original plan.
Billick, of Cedar Rapids-based Side By Side, said approximately 75 percent of the project was to be privately funded, including through cash equity, property parcel sales and possible monthly or long-term land leases.
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Though Billick said he received verbal commitments from approximately nine investors, all but one of whom were Iowa-based, “We just couldn’t get the numbers to work where we could make the returns investors were asking for.”
Also a possibility, he said, was federal grant funding for which the project did not qualify because of a lack of matching funds from Hiawatha.
Billick said he and city officials remained in communication over possible project alternatives through mid-August but decided “enough was enough” after financial barriers continued to persist.
“Ultimately, we had LEGO blocks but not from the same set, and so we could never actually make a starship or anything like that,” Billick said. “We had too many different pieces and we just couldn’t get them configured back together to make sense.”
Hiawatha officials did not return requests for more information Tuesday and Wednesday.
City stakeholders have aimed to transform city-owned land near where North Center Point Road, Emmons Street and Robins Road meet since 2003, as part of what they’ve christened the Village Center plan.
Officials have cited the 2017 realignment of that intersection 100 feet northwest, for $2.8 million, as a necessary step in that plan.
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