Government

Indianapolis development firm eyed for former casino site in Cedar Rapids

The site of a once proposed casino across the Cedar River from downtown Cedar Rapids between Interstate 380 and Second Ave SW and First and Third Streets. Shot on Monday, March 7, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The site of a once proposed casino across the Cedar River from downtown Cedar Rapids between Interstate 380 and Second Ave SW and First and Third Streets. Shot on Monday, March 7, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — An Indianapolis development firm vying to lead the lengthy redevelopment of First & First West foresees an investment of more than $50 million on the site — one of Cedar Rapids’ most valuable, untapped pieces of real estate.

Flaherty & Collins Properties is the lone contender for master developer of the vacant land on the west side of downtown. The nearly 8 acres west of First Street SW and bisected by First Avenue SW is where Cedar Crossing Casino had been proposed, but local officials have opted to explore other uses after state regulators denied a gambling license twice in four years.

“It is unique to have that much urban land in the core right on the river,” said Austin Carmony, Flaherty & Collins vice president for development.

Carmony said his firm was aware of the site and had been waiting for the city to issue a request for proposals. Large public-private partnerships are “exactly what we do,” he said.

Flaherty & Collins submitted the only viable bid to be master developer. A second application did not meet qualifications and is not being considered, according to city officials. A steering committee is expected to interview Flaherty & Collins later this month, and if all goes well, the City Council could name the firm as master developer in March.

The master developer’s job would be to provide technical expertise and market analysis as the city undertakes a yearlong community input process to determine the best viable use for the property. The master developer could then potentially lead the redevelopment.

Community input meetings to identify preferences for the site could be held July through October. Approval of a master plan could occur in November or December. This assumes Flaherty & Collins is selected.

Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director, noted bid documents submitted by Flaherty & Collins offer a vision of what is possible, not what will occur. No decisions have been made, and site remains a blank canvas, she said.

“(Flaherty & Collins) provided a ‘vision’ of different development components that are possible,” Pratt said. “It is not a concept for this specific site.”

Pratt said one constant in conversations about the site is a component that includes a community gathering space for events or activities.

Flaherty & Collins offered a vision for First & First West of “first class, high-density, mixed-use development” worth more than $50 million over two construction phases and at minimum 200 luxury housing units. Community amenities could include a spa, spin studio, media and gaming lounge, heated saltwater pool, bike shop, billiards, an outdoor meditation garden, and an outdoor kitchen with grilling stations, fire pits and lounge.

“The vision for this project will provide for a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with an active life where people can live, shop, dine and be entertained,” according to the Flaherty & Collins documents.

Flaherty & Collins documents detail a portfolio of dozens of large mixed-use projects ranging from $25 million to $121 million throughout the Midwest.

The $121 million 360 Market Square in Indianapolis is a 28-story high rise with 292 luxury apartments, a Starbucks and a Whole Foods Market, among other features. The $100 million St. Elizabeth East in Washington, D.C., is described as a transit-oriented development including renovation of seven historic buildings and 252 apartments at different price points. The $80 million Union: Berkley Riverfront Park in Kansas City has 407 luxury apartments, a gaming lounge, a pet wash, resort-style pool and bicycle bar, among other features.

Virtually all Flaherty & Collins’ listed projects received public incentives. In many cases, public support was 33 percent or more of the project cost, and in the case of the $26 million 306 Riverfront, the city of Kokomo, Ind., provided $12.9 million in public subsidy, according to the documents.

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

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