Staff Columnist

Got any good ideas for First and First West?

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)

If you’ve been on the edge of your seat wondering what wondrous, shiny new thing will be built at “First and First West” in downtown Cedar Rapids, you’re likely experiencing some back pain. Maybe leg cramps. Sit back, relax, take a couple of Advil. It could be a while.

After all, it’s going on seven years since investors announced a plan in early 2013 to build a swanky casino at this prime site on the banks of the Cedar River, straddling First Avenue near I-380. It’s been more than five years since the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission turned them down, and almost two years since the commissioned turned them down again in 2017.

A year ago, the city went looking for a “master developer” to help local leaders come up with a game-changing development for what they now call First and First West. It’s much snappier than “the former casino site,” according to officials.

An Indiana outfit, Flaherty & Collins, was the best of two bidders, and brought an impressive portfolio, including an 28-story Indianapolis tower with 292 luxury apartments, a Whole Foods market and a Starbucks. But by this summer, things were looking iffy. Flaherty & Collins knew housing, to be sure, but the firm wasn’t matching the city’s vision for an entertainment destination.

The city wanted a development that would, as one city official put it, bring a downtown worker who went home Friday afternoon back downtown on Friday night. Well, at least within “a spectrum of feasible possibilities the market can support.” Let’s not get crazy.

Flaherty & Collins is out of the picture. So now, the city is starting over. Still, some folks remain positively pumped at the possibilities.

“This is exciting! Can’t wait,” said Council member Ann Poe this past week as the Development Committee she chairs was about to hear the latest plan for bringing a dream to First and First West.

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The city will now ask its citizenry for help coming up with an idea. There will be an open house on Nov. 12 at the Czech and Slovak National Museum and Library where locals can submit ideas. The council will sift through those proposals by Nov. 19 to chart a path forward.

“I’m just excited to see it moving forward,” said Council member Marty Hoeger, also a Development Committee member.

Council member Ashley Vanorny said the city has an opportunity to create a “crown jewel.”

But as public input goes, this leaves a lot to be desired. The First and First West open house was simply added on to an already scheduled open house on flood control. Citizens will have very little time for deep ideation aimed at conjuring supposals within the feasible possibilities spectrum.

Wait, got a bureaucratic buzzword brain freeze. I’ll be OK in a minute.

Is this really enough time? Aren’t rushed ideas generally bad ideas? Well, I can prove that, easily, by sharing a few of my own rushed (fake) ideas.

Trader Buster’s Top Golf Cheesecake Factory at Costco Glenn on Bass Pro Ridge — Are you happy now, at long last, Cedar Rapids? Are you?

Cedar Crossing Brewery, Winery, Distillery and (coming soon?) Marijuana Dispensary — Sure, they won’t let us gamble, but there’s still plenty of room for other vices along the Cedar. Don’t fall in.

Speeder Tapids S-Curve-View Raceway — Why not harness the city’s Midwest reputation as a speed trap for a tourism boost? Every driver cited gets half-price admission.

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The Caucuseum — A celebration of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, and the nation’s only museum shaped like a gigantic hay bale.

Eastern Iowa’s Capitol building — Get ready, folks. Splitsville is dead ahead. Western Iowa is on its own, or is welcome to team up with Nebraska. Rent out the Golden Dome of Wisdom in Des Moines, we’re the capital now.

The Hemp Palace — Forget that corny edifice in Mitchell, S.D., we’re cashing in on the crop of tomorrow. And the hemp-fired heating system will add a unique sixth smell to Cedar Rapids’ olfactory menu.

The Colossus of Trump — A fitting tribute to a president who has rallied many times in Cedar Rapids. The 150-foot-tall Trump will hold a wind turbine in one massive hand and an ethanol-fueled torch of freedom in the other. The statue will be filled with Iowa soybeans. What else can we do with them? Note: This project will be mandatory if the president is reelected.

Twelve Inches of Topsoil — What? I just really like topsoil.

Amazon Drone Base — Talk about creating a buzz downtown. OK, sorry.

E-scooter driving school — Have loads of fun and reduce municipal liability.

A Taj Mahal — So many local public building projects have been dubbed “the Taj Mahal,” let’s actually build one.

OK, so I didn’t stick to the feasible possibilities spectrum. Sue me. Maybe you have better ideas.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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