CEDAR RAPIDS — A planned apartment complex with large retail spaces, a courtyard above covered parking and even a dog spa could bring back to life a long vacant block on the main street connecting the core of downtown and the New Bohemia District.
Developer Richard Sova of Illinois-based Landover Corp. presented his vision for the Loftus Lumber site — which now includes a series of deteriorating warehouses, a worn parking lot and unmaintained lawn, and has sat largely unused for more than decade — during a meeting with the commission for the Czech Village NewBo Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District, or SSMID, on Thursday.
The $28 million project, which doesn’t yet have a name, would take up the full square block between 10th and Ninth Avenues SE and Third and Fourth Streets SE.
The property is on the northern edge of where revitalization has occurred in NewBo.
“It’s a fairly large project,” said Kyle Martin, president of Martin Gardner Arch and an architect. “It’s the whole block, but we still want to maintain the life that’s been developing in the NewBo district with streetlights and pedestrian engagement and just extend that experience up closer to Eighth Avenue.”
The building structure would form a ring around the perimeter of the property, while a parking lot covered by a courtyard with grilling stations, firepits and water features would fill in the center.
Balconies and street level retail patios would line Third Street.
“The courtyard concept, the amenity package, the enclosed parking, that’s all part of what’s considered a Class-A project,” Sova said. “Frankly, in Cedar Rapids, it’s kind of a new thing.”
He predicted rates would be at the high end of the local rental market.
“We’re very sensitive to, ‘Can the current workforce afford this type of project?’” he added, noting he believes it can.
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The specs include 91,600 square feet of building space, 138 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, commercial retail space and 173 on-site parking spaces.
The structure functions as a single three-story building, which allowed the designers to eliminate some duplication, such as stair towers, elevators and garbage shoots.
The project will go before the City Planning Commission at 3 p.m., Thursday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE. Commissioners will consider whether to grant a major design exception for the proposed frontage length to allow the project to proceed.
The footprint would be four-times the size allowed in the code, according to supporting documents for the commission meeting.
City Council would get a final say.
“I am very supportive of progress at that site, but there have been several variations of the design that have been working through the process, and I am leaving my decision until the final design is presented to City Council,” said Council member Dale Todd, who represents that area.
Sova had attempted to address concerns about the aesthetics by creating more variety in the facade, he said.
At the SSMID meeting, commission members were largely supportive, particularly for a plan that would eliminate one of the neighborhoods biggest eyesores and glaring holes in the resurgence of the area.
The family behind Loftus Lumber, the O’Connells, still own the land and will have a stake in the development.
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“That’s always been the discussion that’s always occurred: ‘What’s going to happen to the Loftus site, and now we know and it’s exciting,” Jim Piersall, a commission member, said. “I think it is very exciting and it will be a great asset.”
“It’s a big, big project,” said Doug Neumann, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance executive director. “It’s a transformational project at the gateway to the district.”
Commission member Ana McClain added, “We are excited for this project. I think it will bring a lot of new people and growth to the neighborhood.”
Some had some questions and concerns, notably about parking.
While the complex provides parking for residents and staff, retail visitors would have 27 street parking spots to share with other local businesses, said Pamela Lewis, a commission member.
“You’re not going to provide any new parking spaces at all,” Lewis said. “I’m really concerned that retailers will not be able to function down there with 27 spaces. I mean, one good bar will take more than 27 parking space.”
Commission chairman Craig Byers noted planners have designed the area to encourage walking.
“What we are trying to create in this district is, ‘park your car and get out and walk,’ and that’s why the city has been so easy to work with in providing a parking variance because that’s exactly what we want people to do,” Byers said.
Vern Zakostelecky, the city land development coordinator, noted 10 to 20 additional street parking spaces could also be added to the immediate surroundings of the building.
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