Government

Developer drops plans for Banjo Block project in downtown Cedar Rapids

The 500 block of Fourth Avenue SE in downtown Cedar Rapids includes Banjo Refrigeration Equipment Co. and a former Dupaco Community Credit Union. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The 500 block of Fourth Avenue SE in downtown Cedar Rapids includes Banjo Refrigeration Equipment Co. and a former Dupaco Community Credit Union. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — An Indiana developer behind a more than $30 million apartment complex proposed for downtown Cedar Rapids across from the public library and Greene Square has withdrawn its plans for the so called Banjo Block.

“I would like to inform you that SC Bodner will not be moving forward with the Banjo Block development,” Owen Hartman, SC Bodner development manager, said in a Friday afternoon email to the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “We appreciate the Iowa (Economic Development Authority’s) support of this proposed project.”

Messages to Hartman and SC Bodner president, Steven Bodner, were not immediately returned on Wednesday morning.

Previous coverage

CEDAR RAPIDS - A proposed $32.3 million complex on a long underdeveloped block in the core of the city - dubbed the 'Banjo block' - was met Tuesday with praise from some City Council members and concern from another who felt the generous subsidies being sought open a 'Pandora's box' of exceeding city standards.

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Earlier this month, SC Bodner had received preliminary approval for an $800,000 tax credit through the state economic development office’s brownfield reinvestment program. The email was to let the agency know it no longer was interested in the tax credits.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said while the news is “disappointing” because it was viewed as a “high quality project,” he does not view it as a failure of the developer.

“This is just a complicated project, a costly project, and it just was not feasible,” Pomeranz said. “These are difficult projects to do, these infill projects.”

Pomeranz said, while the city has not received formal notice of the project being withdrawn, the city had become aware of challenges, particularly with whether Cedar Rapids could support the rents being considered, which were at the high end of the market. He said the city decided it would not do more than the 20-year tax abatement it had offered, which had stirred controversy in its own right.

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He did not rule out SC Bodner reemerging for other projects in Cedar Rapids, and noted that, while this was a let down, the city has a number of residential and commercial projects in the works.

“I think there will be other opportunities,” he said.

The pitch was a five-story, 186,000-square-foot mixed-use building with 184 market-rate apartments and a four-story. 68,000-square-foot parking garage taking up the full block at Fourth Avenue and Fifth Street SE.

Roughly 4,000 square feet of amenity space included a workout facility, bike shop and storage. A rooftop deck, patio, an interior pool courtyard, 222 parking spaces and 1,000 square feet for retail with a small outdoor plaza facing Greene Square were other details.

The Banjo Block project was significant because it marked a shift in the long dormant block at Fifth Street and Fourth Avenue SE. For the first time in years, a developer had managed to assemble the full block, negotiating agreements for all of the properties, including reaching terms with the majority property owner, the Melsha family.

The project had received scrutiny from some members of City Council and the development community over the city’s plan to use a “community benefit” exemption to provide a 20-year tax abatement worth about $5.2 million. That would be twice the city’s standard 10-year tax break through the economic development policy.

They said they believed it was too generous and could set a precedent.

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

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