Business

Cursed site? Year passes since Cedar Rapids high-rise proposed

City pulled plug on previous tower once proposed for same site

A rendering shows the 25-story development proposed on Third Avenue SE in downtown Cedar Rapids near the Paramount Theatre. (Contributed by the City of Cedar Rapids)
A rendering shows the 25-story development proposed on Third Avenue SE in downtown Cedar Rapids near the Paramount Theatre. (Contributed by the City of Cedar Rapids)

Background

In July 2018, downtown Cedar Rapids’ most prolific developer — Steve Emerson — was the lone applicant to bid on one of the last prominent city-owned lots, which is used for parking near the Paramount Theatre.

A 25-story, $73 million high rise, which would be the tallest in the downtown area, would include a ground level, full-service Brother’s Market grocery store, a 17th-floor restaurant with patio, 100 to 120 condominiums, 21 apartments, office space, about 700 parking spaces, rooftop gardens, electric vehicle charging stations, bike storage, solar panels and even a mini dog park on the upper levels, according to proposed plans.

In August 2018, the Cedar Rapids City Council granted permission for city staff to negotiate a project term sheet, which is a less formal way to set parameters for public subsidies. For large projects such as this, the city has required proof of financing before any formal agreements.

Staff eyed last November or December for approval of a term sheet, and then the subsidies, or the development agreement, in January or February.

The city has been actively seeking to develop the lot for more than three years.

A 28-story, $103 million high rise proposed by Iowa City developer Jesse Allen previously had been selected for the site, but the council opted to go back to the drawing board after Allen couldn’t lock in his financing after 18 months.

What’s happened since

Emerson’s project has not moved forward in any public way since the meeting in August 2018, but he has assured it still is on track.

He said he has been working on obtaining multiple grants, including a federal healthy foods grant to help cover the cost of the grocery store. The council has agreed to sponsor his application for a state brownfield-grayfield tax credit.

Emerson said he was moving forward with design and then planned to interview contractors.

Emerson has been seeking a $500,000 commitment from the downtown self-supporting municipal improvement district to support the proposed grocery store. At its most recent meeting July 31, district leaders declined to commit, preferring to wait for confirmation of who the grocer would be before deciding.

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Additionally, they agreed it would need to be a stand-alone grocer and not a grocer and restaurant combined that would compete with existing downtown restaurants.

Jennifer Pratt, the city’s community development director, was asked for an update and whether a deadline is being considered. She said only that she expected a “project update” at an unspecified council meeting this fall and that city staff has been in “continuous communication” with Emerson about the project.

Emerson also has been caught up in a lawsuit in which two out-of-town property owners defaulted on a $25 million bank loan. The bank sued and the court has been foreclosing on the properties in which Emerson is a minority stakeholder.

Emerson said he is owed $2 million for building out space in one of the buildings and is countersuing the bank for what he is owed because he said the bank is collecting rent based on his work.

He had said he did not expect the situation to detract from his efforts to secure financing for the project adjacent to the Paramount.

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

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