Optimistic Cedar Rapids council advances entertainment project on land once meant for casino

Developer says there's interest despite coronavirus uncertainty

Kingston Landing, submitted by 1st & 1st, LLC., would bring a Big Grove Brewery, movie theater, Spare Time family activi
Kingston Landing, submitted by 1st & 1st, LLC., would bring a Big Grove Brewery, movie theater, Spare Time family activity center, and ice skating rink to a city-owned property long vacant and held for a casino in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Contributed by 1st & 1st, LLC)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Partners in a proposal to build movie theaters, a brewery, a family fun center and other entertainment venues on an empty tract of city land remain interested in pursuing the project despite market uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic, a key developer said Tuesday.

Hoping to turn the area right off Interstate 380 into an activity hub for locals and an attraction for drive-by visitors, the Cedar Rapids City Council passed a resolution Tuesday calling on City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and his staff to proceed with negotiating a term sheet, which sets public financial incentives and the scope of the project, for the $90 to $100 million proposal for 8 acres at First Street and First Avenue W.

The vacant land had been earmarked for a casino until regulators twice voted against issuing a gaming license for a Cedar Rapids venue.

The 1st and 1st West LLC — a group made up of Joe Ahmann and Chad Pelley of the Ahmann Companies, restaurateur Matt Smith and former NFL player Nate Kaeding — submitted the winning proposal for the project at the end of February, weeks before COVID-19 prompted wide-scale shutdowns.

“A lot of things have happened that none of us could have foreseen and our team has been meeting multiple times with the anticipation if we would be successful in moving forward with our project,” Ahmann told the council. “ ... We’ve been talking to some of the folks that we’ve had interest in and they continue to have interest or continue to be excited about this project, so that’s exciting.”

The man behind the development’s proposed family activity center flew into town last week to tour the area, Ahmann said, and indicated he’s eager to move forward. Likewise, he said people involved with the proposed 12- to 14-screen movie theater continue to show interest.

He said positivity remains high for the project, which would also include a Big Grove Brewery. But he did note there is caution.


“The market will scream at us and tell us what we want,” Ahmann said. “I think it’s been screaming pretty loud lately that there’s change on the horizon. We’ve been watching that very closely and trying to listen very closely as to what that may mean.”

Eight of the nine council members backed the step advancing the project. Mayor Brad Hart, a longtime lawyer for Bradley & Riley, recused himself from voting. He told The Gazette he did so because Ahmann is a client of one of the partners at the law firm.

“Frankly, I love the fact that we have local developers doing it, but I hate the fact that I have to recuse myself,” Hart said of abstaining.

Amid a turbulent economy, council member Scott Olson said the city needs to make sure the project is done right, “and that what’s built is going to be successful, and that we don’t do something that becomes a problem down the road with the city and or the developers.”

Council member Dale Todd said this development team’s ability to at least attract investors to the proposal, called Kingston Landing, in this market is pretty significant in a mid-sized city like Cedar Rapids.

“This is a tract of land that has sat vacant for more than 10 years and hasn’t generated any real tax dollars, and it really is time to move forward,” Todd said.

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