Government

Cedar Rapids eyes project that would rise from downtown parking lot

City bought the parcels after the 2008 flood for more than $850,000

A city-owned parking lot at the corner of Third Avenue SE and First St. SE in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, J
A city-owned parking lot at the corner of Third Avenue SE and First St. SE in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Interest in a city-owned property downtown where an asphalt parking lot sits has prompted a redevelopment plan calling for at least a five-story building with street-level shopping and housing above.

Cedar Rapids developer Fred Timko initially expressed interest in the property, which includes three adjoining parcels at the northeast corner of First Street SE and Third Avenue SE. Siegel’s Jewelry occupied a now-demolished building there before the 2008 flood.

“It’s a nice site that deserves a great project,” Timko said. “I anticipate significant interest from developers in town and out of town. We have some pretty significant plans there, so I feel pretty good about it, but if something better comes along all the better for Cedar Rapids.”

Timko declined to discuss his plans, which he said have been in the works for sometime, due to expected competition for the site.

The city has begun drafting a request for proposals in which it lays out objectives for the property. The request will likely be posted after the Feb. 23 City Council meeting.

Staff recommendations for objectives to include in the request include financial viability, use of the entire parcel footprint, a multistory urban design of at least five stories, inviting pedestrian level retail or architectural treatments, coordination of parking needs and market rate housing options.

The projects would be reviewed based on its feasibility, community benefit and economic impact, including overall investment and jobs created, according to the recommendations.

A tentative schedule calls for a public hearing Feb. 23, a proposal deadline of April 29, developer selection by the City Council on May 24 and consideration of tax breaks on July 26.

The area at First Street SE and Third Avenue SE, a block from the Cedar River riverfront, is in transition.

Last May, Cedar Rapids awarded developer Steve Emerson, who also owns The Gazette’s building, rights to buy and transform the former five-story Smulekoff’s Home Store, built in 1904 at the southeast corner, with a project estimated at $15 million. A new $37-million, 11-story CRST Center is slated for completion in July at the southwest corner. The 21-story Alliant Energy Tower sits at the northwest corner, leaving essentially a blank slate at the northeast corner parking lot. The 2008 flood prompted Siegel’s to move to 3525 First Ave SE.

The plan for the parking area went before the Development Committee Jan. 20.

“It’s a wonderful spot down in the core of our community,” said Ann Poe, a City Council member and chairwoman of the committee. “It’s one of the few left in the core that can be developed. My vision would be something that stands out and highlights the core of our community: mixed use, housing, commercial, maybe a restaurant or retail in there.”

Mayor Ron Corbett said talk of redeveloping the plot has existed for some time and the interest now is a sign the city’s focus on downtown is paying off.

“It’s a nice rebirth of downtown,” Corbett said. “Interest in the property shows the trajectory of downtown is moving in a positive direction.”

The city bought the three parcels through the voluntary acquisition program.

It acquired 101 Third St. for $486,562 on Oct. 14, 2010, about 10 months after Renaissance Group Inc. purchased the property for $325,000 in December 2009. The city purchased 109 Third Ave. SE for $223,988 on May 5, 2011, from Donald Gaddis, 19 months after he bought it at a sheriff’s sale for $7,500. The city acquired 312 First St. SE for $139,775 from the Viola N. Eisenbast and Elizabeth T. Naibert Revocable Trust for $139,775 on Sept. 7, 2011.

Most recently, Cedar Rapids had been leasing the property to a Cedar Rapids-based group, Downtown Parking Management and Short Term Parking Solutions, beginning Aug. 13, 2013. The agreement called for the city to reimburse the group for any improvements if the property was sold within about three years. That period ends in September.

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