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What's the future look like for NewBo, Czech Village? Plan envisions next wave of development

Neighbors work with city to answer: Where do we go from here?

Amy Stevenson, left, and Tara O’Malley of Cedar Rapids stop Thursday after crossing the 16th Avenue Bridge into Czech Village. Bike infrastructure improvements to the bridge was one of the popular proposals made during a recent open house on forming an action plan for the future of the Czech Village and NewBo areas. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Amy Stevenson, left, and Tara O’Malley of Cedar Rapids stop Thursday after crossing the 16th Avenue Bridge into Czech Village. Bike infrastructure improvements to the bridge was one of the popular proposals made during a recent open house on forming an action plan for the future of the Czech Village and NewBo areas. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Two of Cedar Rapids’ most popular areas — the NewBo and Czech Village districts — have acres of vacant city-owned land ripe for redevelopment, a steady stream of private development interest and a flood control system that should open additional possibilities for recreation and other uses.

Czech Village and NewBo are at a pivotal moment. They have been some of Cedar Rapids most successful post-2008 flood, but the next wave of development could reshape them. City and neighborhood leaders want to ensure those changes enhance — not detract from — what is there.

City leaders, with the help of consultants and stakeholders, have been creating a Czech Village-NewBo Action Plan to serve as a guidepost for development, land use and public investments and policies for the future.

“The point of this is to give people an idea of how things could look, not necessarily that this is exactly how the area will develop,” said Adam Lindenlaub, a city planner who’s been involved in the planning effort. “The area is developing in the right trajectory, so people want to make sure that doesn’t change.”

A draft envisions a variety of possibilities:

• A new hotel on Third Street and 16th Avenue SE

• Roundabouts at Second Street and 12th Avenue SE, Third Street and 12th Avenue SE and Third Street and 16th Avenue SE.

• Extensions of Third and Fourth streets SE, a new street connecting the two, a direct connection from NewBo to the old “flats” neighborhood, and a new street connecting parts of Czech Village. The new streets are intended to improve connectivity and open up development opportunities.

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• Town homes and single-family homes could reintroduce housing along C Street SW in Czech Village adjacent a new greenway. Cottage homes are envisioned near the “flats” on 16th Avenue and Ninth Street SE, and apartments could line the Cedar River where parking lot No. 44 now sits, often with only limited vehicles.

• A pedestrian promenade could connect 16th Avenue SW in Czech Village to the greenway, which would bring back the “round house” and introduce a “destination playground.”

• Improvements to the 12th Avenue and 16th Avenue bridges over the Cedar River could better connect NewBo and Czech Village, rather than serve as barriers.

• Incorporating the proposed Smokestack pedestrian bridge over the river.

Three vast but underused city-owned lots, expected to be made available to the private sector for redevelopment in the coming years as the flood system comes to life, are at the center of many of the aspects of the Czech Village-NewBo Action Plan.

Those areas include near the Sinclair Levee south of NewBo, parking lot No. 44 on Second Street SE near the African American Museum of Iowa, and land along C Street SW near a planned Czech Village greenway.

Since June, groups including the Czech Village Assocation, Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association, Czech Village-NewBo Main Street and others have been giving input on their priorities for neighborhood character, infill development and connectivity.

Last Wednesday, a final of three community workshops to narrow down priorities was held as city officials craft a final report for City Council approval, likely in December.

“The reality is that many of the projects in past plans have been completed,” said Dale Todd, a City Council member for the 3rd District, which includes Czech Village and NewBo. “We needed a new framework that incorporates the flood control system and the possibilities for the future. It’s a realistic and achievable vision that will serve as a living document that can be tweaked as we continue to move forward.”

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The plans should help city leaders develop policies, such as investment in sidewalks, trails, streets, and aesthetic improvements, and also help prioritize the goals and set a timeline for addressing them. Private developers can also take cues for what the market wants.

More housing density was identified as one of the top desires for the districts, with the belief that more rooftops could help attract desirable features such as a grocer. But, as the growth occurs, the groups don’t want to sacrifice the foundation they’ve created that values arts, culture, history, pedestrian and bike mobility, and community gathering spaces.

“We don’t want to be just a place where workers come from outside, but instead are part of the neighborhood,” said Steve Sovern, president of the homeowners association at WaterTower Place Condominiums, 900 Second St. SE. “But there is a concern about crowding residential on Second (street). Residents don’t want to see a canyon of housing eliminating the green space here.”

Sovern said he likes the plan overall — and also sees a benefit in bringing leaders from NewBo and Czech Village together to develop a shared vision.

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

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