Business

When Diamond V departs plant, will it become an eyesore or an impetus for Time Check neighborhood?

Diamond V plans to leave its plant at 436 G Ave. NW in the Time Check neighborhood and consolidates staff and operations
Diamond V plans to leave its plant at 436 G Ave. NW in the Time Check neighborhood and consolidates staff and operations here, at an expanded plant at 2525 60th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids. Its old plant is listed for sale. Diamond V has been acquired by Cargill. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Diamond V plans to leave behind its plant on G Avenue NW as it consolidates staff and operations to a newly expanded plant on the other side of town.

It raises questions about what the future holds for the 2 acre industrial property and what the implications may be for the surrounding Time Check neighborhood, which has stagnated since the 2008 flood but leaders hope can be revitalized with some promising projects on the horizon.

“I think there’s lots of opportunity for further development on that site,” said Ann Poe, a City Council member with deep roots in Time Check. “I hope that it is sold and repurposed into something that can be used for housing.”

She’d like to see Time Check become the next resurgent neighborhood in the footsteps of NewBo and Kingston Village.

The animal nutrition manufacturer plans to leave its plant at 436 G Ave. NW in the coming weeks as it ramps up operations at 2525 60th Ave. SW, which recently saw a $29.1 million expansion, said Stacey Jones, a spokeswoman for Diamond V, which recently was acquired by Cargill.

The G Avenue plant, which includes towering smokestacks, 77,000 square feet of light manufacturing space, and an assessed value of $1.9 million, is listed for sale with occupancy possible in early 2020.

“We’re gauging whether there is interest in market for the property as we hope to sell it,” Jones said. “We haven’t thought about it beyond that point.”

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The site is near Time Check Park in the heart of the neighborhood, one of Cedar Rapids’ core districts long filled with houses for workers of nearby manufacturing plants and other businesses.

The 2008 flood wiped out hundreds of rooftops and businesses. Many have not been replaced.

The neighborhood has seen little of the prosperity or public and private investment of other affected neighborhoods like the NewBo District or Kingston Village.

Underscoring the lack of progress are vast vacant fields where structures stood before the flood, although there have been a handful of developments.

The Diamond V site, though, holds potential to put a stamp on revitalization.

Another manufacturer could come in and bring new jobs, which wouldn’t be the worst fate but some neighborhood advocates have grander hopes of continuing the transition away from industry.

Several of the old industrial sites in the neighborhood already have been razed, and the city is spending $1.8 million to acquire a 3.3 acre MidAmerican Energy hub at Ellis Boulevard and E Avenue NW and relocate MidAmerican. The property is expected to be acquired this fall and demolished to make way for a new Ellis to Sixth Street connection in 2022.

They prefer the Diamond V property cleaned up or the factory torn down and repurposed into housing or a use with broader appeal.

Conversely, some fear the property could become an anchor around the neck of the neighborhood if it sits vacant for years, a concern backed by environmental baggage the property has had.

“I would be concerned about it becoming an eye sore if they close it down and abandon it — getting covered in graffiti,” said Al Pierson, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association. “I would love to see it torn down and redeveloped with housing, but that may not be possible.”

The site has drawn the attention of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for environmental concerns after decades of industrial use.

The property has been on the Iowa DNR’s radar dating at least to 1985, shortly before Diamond V purchased it, as it previously had served as a bulk petroleum facility for about 75 years, documents show.

Even though Diamond V was not responsible for identified contaminants, the company agreed to monitor groundwater through most of the 1990s and into 2002.

That year, Diamond V asked whether the Iowa DNR could require the previous landowner to finish any required cleanup, indicating the company already had spent significant time and money on site work and was discontinuing its efforts.

The previous landowner rebuffed state officials in 2003, and no additional oversight took place for years.

The Iowa DNR last sampled the property’s groundwater in October 2011, when it found semi-volatile petroleum compounds in two monitoring wells, plus benzene and MTBE in one well, above the state’s protected groundwater standards.

The department last wrote to Diamond V in May 2012 to indicate that, though the contaminants meant officials could not formally close their review, they would not require the company to conduct further work.

Several upgrades planned for Time Check intensify the spotlight on the Diamond V property.

Flood control levees are expected within the next decade and with it protection for current and future properties, improved bike trails and acres of parkland — potentially making the area more desirable.

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Traffic engineers are working on a new direct connection between two key northwest arterial streets — Ellis Boulevard to Sixth Street NW — creating more seamless flow to and from the rest of the community instead of the existing zigzag approach to get around the MidAmerican property.

The belief is more traffic would unlock commercial, residential and other development opportunities — bringing vibrancy to the area and creating a new hub near the Ellis and Sixth connection.

The $5.5 million road project is only a few blocks from the Diamond V site.

Meanwhile, the city has invested in planning efforts intended to set priorities and a vision for land use, transportation, character and attractions to inform development, public investment and policies for the neighborhood. A Northwest Neighborhood Action Plan covers Time Check. A Sixth Street Corridor Action Plan covers an area beginning five blocks south of the Diamond V plant and continuing south to Highway 30.

The question is whether the Diamond V plant will be a catalyst or roadblock to revitalization.

Council member Poe said while the city does not have a “pot of money to go in and buy it, level it and turn it over to development,” the city would work with a private developer.

The city has a robust suite of subsidies to leverage private investment to meet city goals, such as urban housing and job creation.

“If a developer came forward to use the space, we certainly would work with them,” Poe said. “We have some opportunities for (tax increment financing), but we are always the last money in.”

Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director, said only that the city would “look forward to working with any future property owner.”

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

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