CEDAR RAPIDS — A panel tasked with reviewing proposals for turning an empty tract once meant for a casino into an entertainment destination favors a local development group’s idea of constructing a Big Grove Brewery, a 12- to 14-screen movie theater and a family activity center with an arcade, bowling and video walls in addition to other amenities on the site.
The Cedar Rapids City Council is scheduled to consider Tuesday whether to proceed with negotiations with the local development group to repurpose 8 acres of city-owned land at First Street and First Avenue W., marking a potential step toward putting the long-vacant area back to use and creating a gateway to the west side.
Home to businesses and commercial buildings before the 2008 flood, the land right off Interstate 380 was for years reserved for a casino. But state regulators in 2017 dashed such hopes, and for the second time in four years would not approve a gaming license for Cedar Rapids.
Since then, Cedar Rapids has looked for other ideas for putting the highly visible parcel to its best use.
City officials say a 14-member panel of city staff, local business people, architects and others favored a $90 to $100 million plan proposed by development group 1st and 1st LLC, called Kingston Landing, because it boasts mixed-use buildings that would engage locals and travelers with a multitude of activities.
The plan from 1st and 1st LLC — a group made up of Joe Ahmann and Chad Pelley from the Ahmann Companies, restaurateur Matt Smith and former NFL player Nate Kaeding — includes a Big Grove Brewery, a movie theater with at least a dozen screens and a Spare Time family activity center.
Council member Ann Poe, who chairs the city’s Development Committee, said the plan contributes to a sense of place, offering a pedestrian-oriented hub for entertainment and a plaza to serve as a public gathering space.
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“It’s a really important piece of city-owned property and because of its location next to the river, because of its entry into the west side of Cedar Rapids, we want to make sure we get it right, and that’s going to be really important to us,” Poe said. “This group of developers have stepped up and we feel pretty comfortable that we can have open dialogue with them and work with them, and ... we feel pretty comfortable that at the end of the day, we’ll get a good product.”
A competing group, Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins, put forth a proposal worth more than $60 million to build one large mixed-use building and at minimum 200 luxury housing units with amenities such as a spa, spin studio, saltwater pool and beer garden.
That plan, more focused on housing, didn’t speak as much to the city’s and community’s appetite for a space putting entertainment at the forefront, Poe said.
“We want it to have some community amenities so that the community is engaged with that place, that people going along I-380 look down and say, ‘Wow, there’s something going on in Cedar Rapids, so let’s get off the interstate at the next exit and check it out,’” she said.
The resolution the council is set to consider at its virtual 4 p.m. Tuesday meeting would empower City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and his staff to negotiate a project term sheet, which outlines financial incentives and the scope of the project.
“It’s pretty rare for a community of our size to have 8 acres of land right next to the river in a very prominent location in your community that you have the ability to do something with it and plan it from the beginning,” said city Economic Development Analyst Caleb Mason. “We are uniquely positioned to shape the skyline of the downtown part of our community for the next several generations, so it is a tremendous opportunity for the community.”
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