CEDAR RAPIDS — A developer had hoped to have construction underway last month on a $28 million apartment complex that would put a mostly vacant NewBo block back in play, but has been slowed while trying to appease design requests from city officials and neighborhood leaders at this key gateway to the district.
Richard Sova, president of Landover Corp., of Lake Barrington, Ill., has met several times with interested groups and individuals who’d like to see more of the district’s historical architecture reflected in the new building’s design. The project would repurpose the entire 300 block of Ninth Avenue SE along Third Street SE, where Loftus Lumber once operated.
“We were changing the design because we didn’t like the direction city staff wanted us to go,” Sova said. “We weren’t going to design the front of the building and make it look a warehouse. We are totally fine with including neighborhood roots. We are happy with what we’ve come up with, and the community is happy with it.”
Sova met last month with the Czech Village New Bohemia municipal improvement district, which endorsed the latest incarnation. It was at least the third major design shift.
The updated design features a facade of red brick, which carries notes of old warehouses, offset by sandstone. It has a partial dentil roofline, which a historic feature resembling teeth and mirrors some surrounding buildings. The design also captures some of the “contemporary liveliness” of the area, an architect described at the meeting last month. Other changes include cutting retail space in half from about 16,000 square feet to 8,000, adding 13 parking spaces for a total of 186 and adding eight apartments for a total of 146.
Sova said he is hoping the project comes before the City Council this month, at which point elected officials would consider economic development incentives.
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Jennifer Pratt, the city’s community development director, said staff also would like to see the project move quickly, but noted staff and developers are finalizing financial details, which must be in place before the council votes.
The project is one of the first major tests of a newly adopted zoning code that for this part of town uses “form-based code,” which focuses less on building use and more on how properties and structures interact with each other and public space.
The code has specific requirements for how a building looks, and the developer is expected to solicit and incorporate feedback from neighbors. In this case, the process worked exactly how it should, Pratt said.
“The city is always asking developers to really take a look at existing buildings, especially in historic districts, and not replicate what is there but complement it,” Pratt said. “We generally work with the developer because we know council has an approval process for incentives, and we want to make sure the project is an enhancement for the area, a positive for property values, and creates a positive experience for those in the area.”
Sova said city staff steered him toward “warehouse”-looking buildings, such as the adjacent Bottleworks and Water Tower Place, which had roots as manufacturing spaces. His team came up with a design that looked like a warehouse, but he never embraced it and it was scrutinized by stakeholders.
The block is a key entry way to the district that came into its own between the 1860s and early 1900s, said Abby Huff, co-director of Czech Village NewBo Main Street District, which has also provided feedback to Sova.
Stakeholders support Sova’s project but say they want to get it right.
Lijun Chadima, who with David Chadima owns the Cherry Building, met with Sova to provide feedback. They support the latest plans that blend old and new.
“It is the gateway to the neighborhood and needs to stand on its own as a real cool piece of architecture,” David Chadima said. “It should make a statement.”
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Walking around NewBo, Huff and Monica Vernon, who is the other director of the main street organization, pointed to various roofline alignments, medallions incorporated into facades, arches over doors and windows, corbels and cornices creating molding along upper facades, and name plates.
CSPS Hall and the Matyk Building have “Romanesque” stylings and the Hose Co. No. 4 building has Italian influences, Vernon and Huff said. They hope Sova draws from this as he finalizes the look of his building.
“You get inspiration from everything around you,” Huff said.
“Put some character into it,” Vernon added.
Vernon and Huff collected feedback from eight people who are business owners, property owners, residents and design committee members. The review found “without exception, respondents are very glad the property is being developed.”
“All note the building looks quite modern,” the review stated. “Many would like some additional nods to the historic district such as use of historic motifs found in the district. There is, however, recognition of the nice use of the dentil roof line.”
The review offered a “couple of very doable suggestions” including “using a different color of brick where the elevation shows stone and making the white material on the elevation look like the historic cedar siding on the Dostal House across the street.”
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