Government

What would you like to see built on casino land in Cedar Rapids?

City wants to hear ideas from public for developing 8 acres

This is the First & First West site on the Cedar River that once was proposed for a downtown casino in Cedar Rapids. The city is inviting the public to a Nov. 12 open house to share ideas for a destination attraction that could be built on the land. (The Gazette)
This is the First & First West site on the Cedar River that once was proposed for a downtown casino in Cedar Rapids. The city is inviting the public to a Nov. 12 open house to share ideas for a destination attraction that could be built on the land. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials want to take another run at attracting a developer to convert 8 acres of vacant city-owned land once reserved for a casino into a destination hub in downtown Cedar Rapids.

A plan for the site — dubbed First & First West — will be presented during a development committee meeting Wednesday. It calls for a community open house to solicit ideas in November followed by a new request for proposals over the winter.

“I think everyone has their own concept of what this will look like,” said Jennifer Pratt, city director of community development. “This is an opportunity to engage with us about what it should look like.”

The land has been vacant since the 2008 flood and has been on hold for a casino for much of the decade following. After state regulators in 2017 rejected casino plans for the second time in four years, city leaders decided in 2018 to identify a new use for the land in the heart of downtown — west of First Street SW and bisected by First Avenue West.

What’s being sought, Pratt said, is a concept that will motivate people to “get in their cars or on their bikes and come downtown.”

The city first tried to find a developer for the land a year ago.

Indiana firm Flaherty & Collins emerged as the lone viable applicant, proposing a “first-class, high-density, mixed-use development” worth more than $50 million, with a minimum of 200 luxury housing units.

The problem was Flaherty & Collins wanted to develop housing first and then focus on the entertainment or attraction piece, Pratt said.

The city’s goal has been to identify an attraction first and build on with housing or whatever the complementary pieces might be, Pratt said.

City officials recently notified Flaherty & Collins they were taking a new approach, although the city isn’t closing the door on the firm submitting a new plan, Pratt said.

A key difference between the first attempt to develop the land and the second is the city initially wanted a “master developer” to guide a community input process that would identify the use, Pratt said. Developers continually turned to the city for clues to the vision, Pratt said.

“We heard from developers more vision and structure would be beneficial to them,” Pratt said. “Doing some of the legwork first would be helpful.”

So the city would take on the role of harnessing a community vision and creating parameters for developers to design a concept around.

Pratt said one developer could step forward or a team of developers could come together on a project.

“We are more interested in making sure we are on the same page as to what would be the asset,” she said. “It could be phased in, but we want a consistent theme.”

The proposed timeline

• Nov. 12: 4:30 to 6 p.m. open house at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. It will be held at the same time as a flood control system open house. The belief is the First & First West site could potentially play into the flood control system.

• Nov. 19: City Council would sign a resolution initiating a request for proposals. Developers would have 60 to 90 days to submit a proposal.

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• Spring 2020: City Council would select a proposal. City staff then would negotiate a development agreement outlining the transfer of property and redevelopment of the site.

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

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