Government

Cedar Rapids takes first step to rethinking old casino site

City seeking 'innovative' master developer and community input

Cedar Rapids is seeking a master developer to help envision what could become of property near the Cedar River that was reserved for a casino. The site, between Interstate 380 and Second Avenue SW and First and Third streets, was photographered March 7, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids is seeking a master developer to help envision what could become of property near the Cedar River that was reserved for a casino. The site, between Interstate 380 and Second Avenue SW and First and Third streets, was photographered March 7, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials are seeking “innovative developers” to lead a visioning effort for about 8 acres of “prime redevelopment” property in the core of the community, which for years had been reserved for a casino.

The publicly owned site now being referred to as “First and First West” is along First Avenue W between First and Third streets on the west side of the Cedar River in Kingston Village.

“This site represents a very exciting development opportunity for our entire community, and we are eager to begin a conversation on the possibilities moving forward,” Jennifer Pratt, the city’s community development director, said in a statement. “We are confident that this site will attract visionary, forward thinking developers who will bring unique ideas to the table as we look to transform this property.”

The prospective developers are to submit qualifications by Nov. 9. The City Council would then select a master developer team Dec. 18.

The site had been reserved for Cedar Crossing Casino, which state gambling regulators rejected last year for the second time since 2014.

The casino backers — the Cedar Rapids Development Group — have an agreement to pay $75,000 per year to hold the land until 2029.

The development group could back out at anytime, but the city does not have an out clause. Pratt said that deal remains in place.

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Steve Gray, who has headed that group, said in a text message that “we are working cooperatively, as always, with the city to explore all of our alternatives. It is my understanding we recently paid the $75K.”

Applicants for the site are expected to explain their approach to developing a master plan with a “focus on public engagement and emphasis on place making and walkability,” according to the city’s request.

Applicants must “produce multiple concept plans for the property, including options for site layouts, architectural styles, and possible uses supported by market feasibility studies or data.”

Pratt explained the master developer would serve as a partner to city officials, guiding the visioning process and measuring market feasibility. The city would host several community input meetings and visual preference surveys.

Development of the land would be a separate phase. The master developer potentially could be in charge of implementing the plan or it could be someone else, she said.

A timeline included in the request for qualifications shows for 2019:

l January-March: Negotiation of exclusive rights agreement.

l April-July: Community visioning initiative and public input.

l August-September: The council adopts a master plan and terms to negotiate in a development agreement.

l October-November: The council approves a development agreement.

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

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