With big things planned downtown Cedar Rapids' west side, officials seek public input

The site of a once proposed casino across the Cedar River from downtown Cedar Rapids between Interstate 380 and Second A
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 — Major changes are in the works on the west side of the Cedar River, with flood protection and a high-profile redevelopment expected to create a new look and feel.

The changes, which include repurposing vacant land once set aside for a casino and new flood berms, are expected to alter traffic patterns and how people interact with the river. As city planners establish a framework for development, which will take years to come to fruition, officials are looking for public feedback.

“When there is a multiyear project such as this, it’s important to provide numerous check-in points so the public can stay informed on what’s being built and how the system is coming together,” Emily Breen, a spokeswoman for the public works department, said of the flood control aspects.

“Residents will walk away with a greater understanding of new projects coming online soon on the west side of the system, as well as see how some concepts have evolved from the previous open house in June.”

An open house to review both flood control system plans and ideas for the former casino space — now referred to as First & First West — is scheduled from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 1400 Inspiration Pl. SW. Brief presentations are planned for 4:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The event will feature poster boards with different looks of development and infrastructure for people to respond.

On the flood control system front, renderings will depict a proposed riverfront restroom and storage facility built into a flood wall near McGrath Amphitheatre, possible rerouting of First Street NW and E and F Avenues NW, among other early concepts.


Meanwhile, about 8 acres of vacant city-owned land once reserved for a casino complex is available for redevelopment, but city officials want to incorporate public wishes into criteria for scoring applications for the site.

A single application surfaced last year when the city sought a developer to guide the public engagement component, but officials said it missed the mark.

Top wishes emerging so far include an entertainment-retail center with some variation of bowling, laser tag, a water park, and with some urging a family-friendly focus, said Caleb Mason, economic development analyst. Some also have urged replicating a successful venue elsewhere, such as the Power & Light District in Kansas City, Mo., City Museum in St. Louis, the River Walk in San Antonio or the Pedestrian Mall in Iowa City, he said.

Integrating green space also has been a common refrain, he said.

“We are hearing a lot of interest from developers, and I think we will see more proposals,” Mason said.

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