Cedar Rapids leaders hope for new incarnation of Ambroz Rec Center

Vacant city building could be key element in Mount Vernon Road SE plan

A Cedar Rapids City Council panel advanced plans Wednesday to seek pitches for redeveloping the former Ambroz Recreation
A Cedar Rapids City Council panel advanced plans Wednesday to seek pitches for redeveloping the former Ambroz Recreation Center on Mount Vernon Road SE. City officials say the right proposal could be a catalyst in making an overall Mount Vernon Road SW action plan a reality. 2019. The building dates to the early 1900s. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The old brick building at 2000 Mount Vernon Road SE has served as the Buchanan Elementary School, Ambroz Recreation Center and more since opening in the early 1900s, but has been vacant for three years.

Cedar Rapids leaders are hoping a developer will step forward to repurpose the 17,000-square-foot structure, possibly into multifamily housing. The city-owned building has been shuttered since 2016 when parks and recreation services and programs shifted to the new Northwest Recreation Center after it opened.

“It’s a wonderful historic structure,” City Council member Ann Poe said Wednesday during a city development committee meeting. “It would be nice to utilize that building as well as incorporate it into the overall plan for Mount Vernon Road.”

City leaders see the property as a key opportunity and possibly a catalyst for an effort to make some changes on the busy commercial strip as outlined in the 2017 Mount Vernon Road Corridor Action Plan.

An effort to sell the building in 2017 came up empty when an interested developer withdrew plans. A redevelopment project would come with a heavy dose of work to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, although the parameters for compliance would vary based on use.

Last fall, city officials worked with a historic preservation specialist and architect, Chris Wand, to complete a study on reuse. They now hope for another crack at attracting the private sector.

The development committee backed launching a request-for-proposal process to invite redevelopment plans.


The matter is expected to go May 28 to the City Council to gain formal approval. The proposal deadline would be 11 a.m., July 19, and the council would consider naming a preferred developer Aug. 13.

Priorities for the property include having a financially viable redevelopment; a project that encourages investment along Mount Vernon Road SE consistent with the goals of the action plan; and a project that retains a sense of place through renovation and/or new construction.

Other factors in scoring the proposals would include the timeline for redevelopment and build out, compatibility with the traditional character of the neighborhood, sustainability features, preference for full or partial renovation of the existing building, preference for housing, overall investment value and jobs created or retained.

Wand, who served on the Dubuque Historic preservation commission, put together concept plans envisioning the most feasible adaptive reuse options for the building with an emphasis on preserving it. He developed conceptual site plans, floor plans and exterior elevations to provide an example approach to renovating the Ambroz building and returning it to active use.

Wand did so taking into account his interpretations of building codes, city ordinances, the ADA and the standards for historic properties.

The hope is his work will serve as a road map and help spark ideas among developers. Some interest for the building already exists, but no proposal has yet been put forth, city officials said.

Caleb Mason, a city economic development analyst, noted the property has 1.6 acres of land and parking, which could be ideal for a medium-intensity, multifamily project. He said he expects the project could qualify for the city’s economic development incentive for historic preservations, which includes tax abatements.

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