Staff Columnist

State should award historic preservation credits for Cedar Rapids project

John Schulz, Vice President of construction at Heart of America Group (left), and Kirk Whalen, Vice President, view historic images in the former Guaranty Bank building in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Heart of America Group plans to redevelop the 300 block of 3rd Ave SE, with a hotel in the renovated bank building, renovation of the World theater and construction of a new hotel building. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
John Schulz, Vice President of construction at Heart of America Group (left), and Kirk Whalen, Vice President, view historic images in the former Guaranty Bank building in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Heart of America Group plans to redevelop the 300 block of 3rd Ave SE, with a hotel in the renovated bank building, renovation of the World theater and construction of a new hotel building. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Plans to incorporate the historic Guaranty Bank building and World Theater into a $50 million two-hotel development project downtown has the project’s backers, city leaders and historic preservationists all singing from the same hymnal. That’s no small feat in Cedar Rapids.

Recent history has seen repeated clashes between preservationists and city leaders over projects leading to the demolition of buildings considered historic for various reasons. This editorial board has urged the city to pick projects that sustain and showcase the city’s architectural heritage over those that would erase our past with a wrecking ball.

Heart of America’s plans for Guaranty and the World Theater is the sort of project we envisioned, transforming a former bank into a new boutique hotel and saving much of what remains historically significant of the World to front a new hotel. Everybody, it seems, is on the same page.

Except, perhaps, the state.

As The Gazette’s B.A. Morelli reported recently, state officials who award valuable historic preservation tax credits to projects around the state have not yet embraced Heart of America’s vision. The tax credits are seen as an important component in the project’s financing.

State officials aren’t commenting. But the Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission was concerned enough to send a letter supporting the project to the State Historical Society of Iowa. In particular, the commission expressed backing for partial reuse of the World, which has been vacant for years.

Commission Chairman Tim Oberbroeckling said the state’s concerns center on the World’s role in the project, which will not include its use as a theater. Of course, there’s no lack of theater or gathering space in downtown Cedar Rapids. Theatre Cedar Rapids and Paramount Theatre — each just a block away — provide adequate theater space in downtown Cedar Rapids. The Cedar Rapids Public Library and Cedar Rapids Museum of Art provide additional auditorium spaces.

Preservation advocates fear loss of the tax credits could alter the project, putting the theater at risk.

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We share those concerns. The project’s preservation merits are considerable, and would seem to match well within the purpose of historic tax credits, namely preserving history.

So we’re confident, eventually, the state will get on board. We urge officials to award the credits and save the World.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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