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Newstrack: What is going on with vacant casino land in Cedar Rapids?

City committee aiming to 'get it right' in talks with developer

This is the site just west of the Cedar River that was proposed for a casino in Cedar Rapids. A state commission twice refused to issue a license for the casino, and a steering committee is now meeting with an Indiana developer about how best to develop the land. A report was expected in March, but the committee has extended the talks “to make sure we get it right,” a city official said. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
This is the site just west of the Cedar River that was proposed for a casino in Cedar Rapids. A state commission twice refused to issue a license for the casino, and a steering committee is now meeting with an Indiana developer about how best to develop the land. A report was expected in March, but the committee has extended the talks “to make sure we get it right,” a city official said. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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Background

In February, Cedar Rapids officials identified Flaherty & Collins Properties, an Indianapolis firm specializing in housing and mixed-use developments, as the lone viable applicant to lead the effort to re-envision the vacant downtown land once reserved for a casino.

First & First West is the placeholder name for the nearly 8 acres of city-owned land west of First Street SW and bisected by First Avenue SW, just west of the Cedar River.

Local officials decided to move on after state gambling regulators twice in four years rejected a bid for Cedar Crossing Casino.

A steering committee was expected to interview Flaherty & Collins later in February, and, if all went well, the City Council would formally select Flaherty & Collins in March, The Gazette reported on Feb. 7.

What has happened since?

The committee met, but officials decided to slow the process down to ensure everyone was on the same page, said Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director.

These discussions are still taking place, she said.

“It’s a matter of having discussions on and getting a handle on the entire project and not just the housing piece,” Pratt said, adding the application showcased the firm’s comfort zone, but the city wants to see if the company can incorporate an entertainment and destination type attraction.

The steering committee is expected to make a recommendation later this summer and, at that point, would decide if the city wishes to proceed with the Indianapolis firm or start over.

If Flaherty & Collins is selected, a public engagement phase would likely begin in the fall, Pratt said.

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In its proposal, Flaherty & Collins offered a vision of “first-class, high-density, mixed-use development” worth more than $50 million over two construction phases and a minimum of 200 luxury housing units.

Community amenities could include a spa, spin studio, media and gaming lounge, heated saltwater pool, bike shop, billiards, an outdoor meditation garden and an outdoor kitchen with grilling stations, fire pits and lounge.

Cedar Rapids is using a more intensive process for redeveloping what it views as a crucial piece of land that could serve as a catalyst for the rest of downtown.

The first phase is to select a firm to guide a community visioning process to identify a preferred and viable use for the land and serve as a master planner. This is what Flaherty & Collins is vying for currently, Pratt said.

The second part is to select a firm to build it, she said.

These could be the same company or different ones, Pratt said.

“In larger projects, I do not see it as a failure when we take time and get additional input,” Pratt said. “One thing I heard about in the downtown visioning plan is that this is a unique opportunity, and we need to make sure we get it right.

“To me, we are still on target,” she said.

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

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