Government

World Theater designation as local landmark could mean millions

Cedar Rapids redevelopment project would restore part of structure

The projection room, seen Monday, remains intact in the balcony of the World Theater in downtown Cedar Rapids. The theat
The projection room, seen Monday, remains intact in the balcony of the World Theater in downtown Cedar Rapids. The theater was gutted in the mid-2000s and is now part of an upcoming redevelopment with the adjoining Guaranty Bank, which will include hotels and restaurant by Heart of America Group. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — Historic preservation advocates, with support from city officials and a developer, want to designate the old downtown playhouse and movie theater on Third Avenue SE — known over time also as the Strand, State Theatre and New World Playhouse — as a local historic landmark.

The designation would provide a layer of protections for years to come for the cream-colored building with terra cotta finishes that opened in 1915. And importantly, it also could unlock valuable historic tax credits through the state to push forward renovations of the long-dormant property into a new 115- to 125-room hotel.

“I’m very emotional, very passionate about this building,” Mark Stoffer Hunter, a longtime Cedar Rapids historian, last week told the Historic Preservation Commission. “This is a building that needs to mean something for centuries to come in downtown Cedar Rapids and is so much a vital part of a greater project that exemplifies the beautiful melding of historic preservation and economic development in downtown Cedar Rapids, which is so important.”

The commission voted unanimously last Thursday to recommend the property at 316 Third Ave. SE become a local historic landmark.

The matter now is due before the City Planning Commission for input at 3 p.m. Thursday at City Hall Council Chambers, 101 First St. SE. The City Council could confirm the decision later this month.

The local historic landmark designation requires historic preservation review to allow any changes to the exterior of these properties. The city began using the designation in 2014 with the Ausadie Building and now recognizes six local landmark designations.

The designation also is a prerequisite to receive historic tax credits from the state. Company officials have estimated them as being worth in the millions of dollars.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Daniel Oliver, chief architect with Heart of America Group, which is behind the project, said that if the City Council approves the landmark designation, the developer would submit the application to the state the following day. The state then would have 90 days to rule on it.

State historic preservation and Department of Cultural Affairs officials are “100 percent supporting it,” Oliver said of the plan. “So that is our goal, to go forward on the state level but not national.”

The hotel is part of a $51 million project that also includes renovating the adjacent Guaranty Bank Building into a second hotel. The bank piece is thought to be eligible for federal historic preservation tax credits, and Heart of America officials hope to learn if they’ve been approved by mid-April.

The theater renovation component would include construction of a nine-story, 84,000-square-foot hotel with a rooftop restaurant and bar called The Republic and 1,500 square feet of event space. The original proposal called for the hotel to be an AC Hotel by Marriott.

Heart of America Group’s concept is to restore the front part of the theater to its original design from the 1915 opening, including a foyer, and marquee and flanking retail spaces.

Key features include the facade with ornamental cornices and green tiled roof, box office, cantilevered balcony and projection room to replicate its 1915 opening.

“The lobby is relatively intact, although in material disrepair,” according to a historic review of the property. “The plaster, terra cotta, and marble finishes remain; with substantial repair and rehabilitation needed soon. The mosaic floor is in generally good condition.”

The cavernous main room where risers had provided seating for shows would be repurposed as a community meeting and gathering space before entering the new hotel structure.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The stage and the back part of the building would not be saved, in part because of the significant changes that have been made over the years, Oliver said.

Because the building wouldn’t be restored fully, it was deemed ineligible for federal tax credits, said Oliver, who with a team was taking measurements and analyzing the building Monday.

The unfortunate reality, Oliver and Stoffer Hunter said, is the building would never be restored into a theater, so would likely continue to sit vacant and deteriorate until it would need demolition anyway.

“It’s a shame so many buildings are being demolished because of the black-and-white attitude,” Oliver said.

After opening as the Strand, the theater eventually was renamed the State Theatre, and underwent a significant renovation around 1960 when it became the World Theater, according to a historic overview provided by the city. The building was last used as a theater in 1981, although the building continued to be called the World Theater.

In 1999, after years of vacancy, a church occupied the space, which had been partially renovated for retail. In 2003 it became a teen night club for a short period.

Over the years, the facility was changed several times, including removal of the slope of the floor and installation of a drop ceiling.

The facility was gutted again in 2005 in hopes of finding another use, including removing the marquee and replacing store fronts with cement boards.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“We now know the removal of the stage components inadvertently compromised the structural integrity of the west and north walls,” according to the historic overview.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.