CR Amphitheater Progress

Cedar Rapids Amphitheater

Construction work is underway on the west bank of the Cedar Rapids for a new amphitheater that will offer an intimate view of Mays Island and the downtown landscape beyond. The amphitheater is being incorporated into a new levee segment between 3rd Avenue SW and the police station – part of a comprehensive flood protection system for the westside should it ever get built. Set to open next summer it is anticipated to attract over 50,000 event-goers annually – good news for the westside of downtown that has long suffered from a lack of vibrancy. Now dubbed “Kingston Village,” the area seems poised for revitalization after being devastated by the flood, which left entirely blocks vacant right in the city core.

The upcoming redevelopment of the Louis Sullivan People’s Bank into a restaurant, office, and housing is a positive sign for the area. Additionally, the former school district building a couple blocks away will be redeveloped into apartments. And perhaps most importantly, the City recently got approval to allow select commercial redevelopment in the 100 year flood plane of flooded properties that were bought out with Community Development Block Grant funds that normally restricts construction of new permanent structures. This constraint now aside, redevelopment can progress despite the political and financial delays to comprehensive flood protection.

POSTED September 20. 2012 AT 8:10 PM  |  Cedar Rapids, Development  |  Comments Off

First Christian Church Matters

First Christian Church

Until recently, downtown churches have perhaps been some of the most resilient tenants of the city center. Those that remain have preserved important pieces of Cedar Rapids’ cultural, architectural, and spiritual history. Lately however, more than one historic church in the city core has faced a loosing battle for survival. The changing demographics of the city, like many, with generally fewer residential properties downtown, have caused some downtown churches to lose members, while others have had the opposite issue, with growing membership and the need for larger or additional space.

This past October the Peoples Church at 3rd Avenue and 6th Street SE, was torn down to make way for a new office building. At 136 years-old it was the oldest standing church in the city. Now it is the century old First Christian Church two blocks away that appears to be just days from demolition. Tuesday was the 100th anniversary of the building’s groundbreaking on May 22, 1912.

From an architectural standpoint, First Christian is much more significant, with direct design influence from Louis Sullivan and remarkable stained glass windows designed by Louis Mellet. The unique building has a strong civic presence and greatly enhances the urban quality of this block. Built right up against the sidewalk, the church maximizes its site with a flat, rectangular building that appears more civic than religious. Despite missing teeth, the church contributes to a strong urban edge that makes this block of 3rd Ave feel more walkable, dynamic and safe.

The church, now owned by St. Luke’s Hospital is slated to be torn down to make way for about 40 parking spaces to serve the new PCI Medically Pavilion, commonly referred to as the “Medical Mall,” under construction about a block away. St. Luke’s purchased First Christian Church in December 2010 for $695,000, when declining membership and maintenance costs compelled the congregation to sell the building and relocate. At that time St. Luke’s intent for the property was not clear and it was not part of the proposed medical mall plans. (1)

Much contention already exists about the medical mall since the City Council’s controversial decision to close a segment of 2nd Avenue between 10th and 12th streets SE to allow PCI to build on. PCI argued they could not feasibly build up, rather than out, and threatened to build elsewhere away from downtown, citing Hiawatha as a potential alternative. Additionally the City agreed to provide generous financial assistance for the project – $13.24 million in tax increment financing for a parking ramp and associated street improvements. (4)

Supposed to be the catalyst project for the new Medical District SSMIM (self supporting municipal improvement district), the Medical Mall was initially promoted as a more urban building that would infill peacefully with existing important structures. Instead the emerging building is awkwardly situated, very close to two remaining neighboring buildings (Surgery Center and First Lutheran Church) – now part of the large super block created by closing and building over 2nd Avenue. While density generally should be celebrated, it is diminished by the vastness of open parking lots that will now surround the new facility.

Development now taking place in the Medical District has deviated greatly from the type and quality of development and improvements originally presented to the public. In official concept plans developed by Sasaki Associates, the street was not closed, new development densified the district, and character-rich buildings like First Christian remained. According to St. Luke’s, the development site plan was approved by the city “and made public” on February 3, 2011. There was no real announcement, however; nor was it readily available anywhere, so most people were unaware. Once 2nd Avenue was closed, the church still appeared in vague site diagrams available to the public. Even now, on PCI’s own website, the only site plan displayed is an outdated map graphic produced by the Gazette that shows no changes at all to the First Christian block.

In an April 2011 statement released by St. Luke’s, PCI, and Mercy Medical Center regarding the fate of historical structures in the Medical District, St. Luke’s pointed to the city’s code-based parking standards for reason why the First Christian Church site was needed to “support” the required new parking. (2) The hospital offered to contribute the equivalent demolition costs to anyone interested in moving the church. Mission of Hope, a local non-profit agency was looking into this endeavor, but of course it ended up being cost prohibitive. (3)

According to city code, seven parking spaces are required for every 1000 square-feet for medical buildings, but PCI received a variance from the city reducing this requirement to five – which is what the Development Department is now recommending the code be changed to. (6) On Tuesday, February 28, 2011, the City Council agreed to reduce parking requirements for medical buildings from even further from five to 4.5 spaces per 1000 square feet, in hopes to save the church. Despite this, PCI CEO Mike Sundall refused to consider changes, claiming losing the 40 spaces would make parking “really, really tight,” and they were not willing to bear legal fees that supposedly would be involved with this adjusting the plans. (4)

Despite the lowered parking requirements, however, St. Luke’s and PCI continue to perpetuate code-based parking requirements as the key factor in tearing down the church on their reactionary FYI website regarding the church demolition. Parking, clearly is not the real issue. They are obviously land banking for the future, but in doing so are degrading the future vitality of the Medical District as a pedestrian friendly area with mix of businesses, housing, and medical facilities, which they claim to subscribe to.

St. Luke’s plan to tear down the church came to light in early January 2012, when the Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) highlighted it on their “Most Endangered Buildings” list. Around the same time, St. Luke’s applied for a demolition permit from the city. Under recommendation from the HPC, a 60-day hold was placed on the permit. According to city leaders, this is the extent of their legal power to prevent the demolition since it is privately owned and not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A newly formed citizen group called “Save CR Heritage” has been rallying since that time trying to work with St. Luke’s and PCI to find an agreeable solution to preserving the building. Supporters held “funeral march” demonstrations in front of the church each weekday during morning and afternoon rush times to protest the pending demolition. In March 2012, St. Luke’s announced they were willing to sell for $900,000 if funds and a proposal could be put forward in a matter of a few short weeks and a down payment of $90,000 in an even shorter period of time by March 23. (5)

According the Beth Chacey DeBoom, Chair of Save C.R. Heritage, the price tag included: $430,000 for the church and ground beneath it (not including the church’s parking lot), $375,000 for two large apartment houses next door, which they insisted must be purchased along with the church; $30,000 for work already done (mostly asbestos removal); and $70,000 in legal fees. St. Luke’s CEO Ted Townsend later estimated legal fees to be as high as $250,000, bring the total closer to $1 million and higher.

Supporters frantically tried to raise funds while looking for potential developers that could support the project. Some local developers were mostly interested in converting the church into condos, but the striking stained glass windows could have been challenging to preserve in place. The most legitimate interest came from Grimes-based Koester Construction that has a lot of experience in historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects.

On April 23, Save C.R. Heritage and John Koester of Koester Construction submitted a letter of interest to St. Luke’s President/CEO Ted Townsend requesting the opportunity to explore several options thought viable for the building’s future reuse, including office space, a boutique hotel, and/or using the space for special events that could be rented for public or private events. The letter requested the structure be maintained in current condition and to retain the stained glass windows intact. This of course did not happen as the stained glass windows have since been removed and some windows now sit open, leaving the inside of the building vulnerable to the elements. So despite several developers expressing interest in the church, the time frame and poor cooperation on St. Luke’s part made it very difficult to raise funds and prepare a business plan according to their demands.

On May 4, even the mayor got directly involved, asking the hospital to consider just donating the church and pledged $300,000 in city funds to go toward redevelopment costs. (6) Considering the immense financial and political support they have already received from the city, it would be appropriate for them to further consider alternatives that have been proposed. But ultimately, St. Luke’s is unwilling to cooperate and is putting their interests ahead of the greater good. As of today it curiously still stands, though it has been fenced up for a week now. Suspicion raises as the holiday weekend nears, if it will begin coming down when nobody is around to see.

It’s amazing St. Luke’s and PCI are willing to put their public image on the line for something so contentious. Overwhelming public opinion is against them and the destruction of First Christian will not be forgiven quickly. This battle appears to be lost, but it most certainly is not the last. First Christian serves as yet another wake up call to Cedar Rapids that we need to think proactively and get ahead of the [wrecking] ball to save the significant buildings we have still have. Which one will be next?

Sources Cited:
1. The Gazette “Sale of historic church to St. Luke’s Hospital raises concern” Cindy Hadish – Jan. 25, 2011
2. Statement from Mercy, St. Luke’s, PCI “Medical District Statement” – April 2, 2011
3. The Gazette “Cedar Rapids panel compiling list of endangered properties” Cindy Hadish – Jan. 8, 2012
4. The Gazette “Last-minute efforts to save historic Cedar Rapids church may be futile” Cindy Hadish – Feb. 28, 2012
5. The Gazette “St. Luke’s Hospital officials say church demolition on hold” Cindy Hadish – April 6, 2012
6. The Gazette “First Christian’s final Sunday” Todd Dorman – May 20, 2012

POSTED May 25. 2012 AT 3:28 PM  |  Cedar Rapids, Community, Development  |  Comments Off

An Exciting Year Ahead

My sincere apologies for the unintended lack of fresh postings lately here on Urban Thinking. Though I’ve done a poor job of following recent development and urban progress, much has taken place in the past few months and 2012 is already off to an exciting start for Cedar Rapids and the Corridor. The bulk of major flood-induced projects in the city’s core are now well underway, if not already complete. During the past year, much of the major visible progress occurred on the south end of downtown: exterior of new federal courthouse largely complete, conversion of old library to TrueNorth offices, reopening of CSPS, move and expansion of National Czech and Slovak Museum, and streetscaping and continued small-scale redevelopment in New Bohemia.

In this upcoming year much more visible change will be happening on the north end of downtown and more focused in the built-up core. Renovations to the Paramount Theatre are well underway, set to reopen this fall, which will bring another major attraction back to downtown. Similarly the new convention center has begun to take shape just in the past week with steel structure going up quickly along First Avenue. Next door old curtain wall windows are being removed from the hotel in preparation for major renovation, in addition to work inside the US Cellular Center.

Foundations have been poured and daily progress is visible at the site of the new Cedar Rapids Public Library, sitting across from Greene Square Park to the south. A new multistory office building at the former site of the (regrettably) demolished People’s Church is contributing to the expansion of downtown toward the east. Much opportunity exists for infill development and urbanizing underutilized and vacant sites that characterize a fringe between the urban core and surrounding neighborhoods. Along with development in the Medical District along 10th Street SE, namely PCI’s Medical Pavilion and Mercy’s new cancer center, this area has a lot of potential.

Not to say this progress is all flawless or without irreversible consequences. PCI’s Medical Pavilion in particular has stirred much controversy around the closure of 2nd Avenue and excessive surface parking planned on surrounding blocks – threatening yet another beautiful church building, First Christian Church. As noted above, the People’s Church was sadly torn down this past fall after holding the corner of 3rd Ave. and 6th. Street for 136 years. Additionally, throughout the city’s core, continued flood redevelopment and especially the particulars of a flood protection system will put other historical and architecturally significant structures at risk.

Exciting changes and development are a constant for our neighbors to the south in Iowa City as well. Unquestionably a much better urban scene than CR – despite its smaller size – more minor changes and openings in downtown Iowa City and surrounding districts are certainly interesting to follow. While Iowa City tends more than often to “get it right” on creating quality, mixed-use redevelopment, they too have their slips – most notably the recent demolition of a cherished local organic restaurant The Red Avocado. Unlike Cedar Rapids, where most of our demolished treasures are replaced by parking, this quaint house and a few of its neighbors will be replaced by a high-quality, urban mixed-used housing building. Still, it’s unfortunate when even a good development has to destroy something – business or building – that already contributes to the community/neighborhood’s unique character.

The last few months have also brought a number of [positive] changes for me personally, which have influenced my desire to stay around the Corridor for some time. At the end of October I was offered a full time position with an architecture firm here in Cedar Rapids, after spending a few days trying to land a job in Boston. Literally within the same week, I ended up meeting my now-girlfriend Emily, who I am particularly fond of. Additionally, I purchased my first car ever, ending my often inconvenient carless lifestyle in the CR. (I had no intention of buying a car had I moved to Boston.) While I’m a huge fan of transit and enjoyed utilizing the system here, it simply cannot fit my mobility needs beyond commuting to and from work. Needless to say, I am now going to be here for a while – and I am thoroughly looking forward to it.

It is an incredibly exciting time to be in Cedar Rapids, especially working in the profession of architecture. Additionally, there really is quite a variety of things to do and see in the area, and it only seems to be getting better. Obviously Cedar Rapids is no Boston or Chicago. An urban lifestyle is not that easy to come by here, but that doesn’t mean there is no urban personality or amenities, simply on a much different and smaller scale. So that is my hope and ambition – to seek out and experience those places and things that give CR and the Corridor its urban flavor and work to promote and support continued urbanism here. There is so much potential in Cedar Rapids, it’s hard not to be passionate and want to be apart of it all. I’m in, are you?

POSTED February 15. 2012 AT 11:45 PM  |  Cedar Rapids, Development  |  Comments Off

NewBo Fest

CSPS Cedar Rapids

The NewBo Fest was this past weekend, running Friday through Sunday, celebrating all that is going on in New Bohemia, Cedar Rapids’ growing arts district just south of downtown. A newly rebuilt 3rd Street, the active spine through the neighborhood, was bustling with a variety of vendors and multiple music stages, set up at NewBo Park, in front of Parlor City, and underneath the old drive-thru canopy at Capone’s. While a few flood-ravaged houses and empty lots remain, several smaller buildings have been reopened or are currently being restored.

The historic CSPS Hall (photo above), home of Legion Arts, was open to tour, just days after its grand reopening following a multi-million dollar renovation project to improve the facility after the flood. The restoration enhances the building’s versatility for hosting a variety of performing arts, exhibits, and other events. Going back to the building’s historic roots as a Czech social hall, new spaces and improved accessibility will allow a much wider array of events and gatherings, both public and rentable for private functions. Perhaps most exciting is the inclusion of three store-front tenant spaces – two front 3rd Street, flanking the grand arched entry, and one along the side facing 10th Avenue. According to our tour guide, co-director Mel Andringa, there has been a number of interests in the spaces for coffee shops/wine bar, a bookstore, and apparel store. In addition to the CSPS Hall, the old firehouse next door was also renovated to provide space for visiting artists or performers to stay.

A block away from CSPS is the Cherry Building, the nucleus of the creative arts community in New Bo. Built in 1911, as a dairy equipment factory for the J.G. Cherry Company, the building is now divided in a number of studio spaces for artists, creative business ventures, and even an organic lip balm company (EcoLips). Since the flood, the first level was remodeled with new windows and finishes, while the upper levels remain less refined and (presumably) more affordable. Some sculpture pieces were on display in an open flex/exhibit space towards the back, while the hallways provide a canvas for in-house artists to display and advertise their work. The building was open today for the festival and a number of studios and businesses had their doors open – I had no idea the place was so full and active.

Street reconstruction work continues on 3rd Street south of 12th Avenue to 14th Avenue, where a few small businesses have reopened, but the area remains pretty desolate. The corner of 12th and 3rd Street is the main intersection in NewBo, now anchored on three corners by restaurant and bars – Chrome Horse, Parlor City, and recently Capone’s, opening in the former Village Bank Building. The remaining (NE) corner is the final major component, the NewBo City Market. Set to open next spring, the market will transform an existing metal-sided industrial building set back from the street into a large indoor market hall with a large plaza in front for larger open-air markets in the summer and parking in the winter. An historical storefront facade will be salvaged and serve as the front to a new market store building, to be open more regularly than the market itself. Once open, the NewBo City Market will enhance attractions like CSPS, the Cherry Building, and existing bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.

The addition and improvements of these organizations and facilities, in addition to public investment with new streetscaping, have laid a terrific foundation for private investment to follow and really create a lively, active and urban neighborhood in Cedar Rapids. The synergy of these different organizations and facilities in NewBo will be an impetus for attracting more people and infill development, making the neighborhood even more active and resilient. Despite remain pockets of sparseness, the activity at the NewBo Fest this weekend provided a look into what a typical weekend may look like in a year or two. It’s been incredible to watch the transformation thus far, but will be even more exciting to see the changes yet to come. Good things are in store for New Bohemia.

POSTED September 5. 2011 AT 2:15 AM  |  Cedar Rapids, Community, Development, Urbanism  |  1 COMMENT

First Street Parkade 50 Years Down

First Street Parkade construction

First Street Parkade

First Street Parkade

First Street Parkade demo

After fifty years of gracing Cedar Rapids’ downtown riverfront, the First Street Parkade and its iconic spiral ramp have reached their end. Built in 1961, the four-story ramp would provide over 400 parking spaces for patrons of the downtown retail scene, as competition from newer suburban outlets was increasing. In recent years the structure’s use would be dominated by daytime office workers.

When constructed the new parkade had a commanding presence downtown – few structures at that time occupied the entire length of a city block. Three elevations (north, east and south) that did not face the river were characterized by long, level horizontal planes, articulated by minimalist vertical supports. Along First Street, sections of the top deck wall were clad in dark tinted glass, perhaps an attempt to break up the non-varying facade to relate to the scale of existing storefront buildings across the street.

The river facade was much more dynamic. Angled ramps that let motorists ascend to the top deck were left undisguised, sloping in the same direction as river’s flow. The center was marked by an incredible spiral ramp, partially extending out over the water, cutting through the elegant balustrade lining the existing river wall. Exposed by the demolition process, the concrete spiral was self-supporting, cantilevering from the massive circular core.

While the spiral certainly added a point of visual interest along the river, more impressive was the experience driving down it, framing a sequence of views toward iconic public buildings like City Hall, the county courthouse, and the municipal greenspace of Mays Island. The orientation of views from the ramp reinforced long-standing symbols of civic pride. Likewise the parkade was a new point of pride for the city – a sign of modern progress and optimism for the future, heralded as a means to save downtown from its looming demise.

After the 2008 flood, replacing the First Street Parkade became more imminent, having already reached the end of its useful life. Once demolition is complete the site will be turned into surface parking for the time being – an acceptable temporary use. The important riverfront site is now ripe for redevelopment and, once again, has the opportunity to be a catalyst for downtown progress and civic pride for fifty more years to come. Only this time, it will be for people, not cars.

POSTED July 25. 2011 AT 12:05 AM  |  Architecture, Cedar Rapids, Development, History  |  2 COMMENTS

City Updates – July 14

New weekly update on news and development in the City of Five Seasons. It’s time to enjoy.

New Transit Buses
CR Transit 2009 Gillig Lowfloor #2092Tomorrow, July 15, CR Transit will begin running four new 35 foot, 2010 Gillig Lowfloor buses, that arrived July 2. Part of an effort to finally modernize the system fleet, this order follows the first order of brand new buses last summer, along with an additional five coming next year.

For years Cedar Rapids purchased only used and refurbished buses, which had more mechanical issues and were less attractive to riders. Having modern, new buses is critical to improving the system, but CR Transit still has a long path to becoming a better transit system fit for Cedar Rapids’ size.

CR Transit will have one of the new buses on display during the Kernels game this Saturday, July 17, from 3:30 – 5:30pm at Veterans Memorial Stadium in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act. Fans can check out the new bus and is an opportunity for people who have never ridden the bus to see how easy and convenient it can be.

Medical District News
In a finely-worded press release this week, two public meetings were announced for August regarding PCI’s Medical Mall development. Earlier this year PCI proposed closing 2nd Avenue SE between 10th and 12th streets, claiming it was the only configuration they could fit all their programs without disrupting ground level connectivity (despite two adjacent blocks that are proposed to be surface parking in their plan). Initially most members of the City Council seemed cool with this, giving PCI a favorable impression to their proposal, but heavy public opposition soon followed. Most vocal citizens are concerned with the traffic effects of closing off 2nd Avenue and the cost required to convert 3rd Avenue into two ways. I am opposed to the street closure, not for vehicular traffic, but the barrier it will create between downtown and the surrounding residential neighborhood and disruption to the urban pattern. (I will argue this position more precisely in a later post.) The meetings will be held at the Crowne Plaza Ballroom on Wednesday, August 4, from 4 – 7pm, and Thursday, August 5, from 11am – 1pm.

Also, the City Council is likely to approve spending $124,336, for Alliant Energy to burry power lines along 7th Street E from A Ave NE to 8th Ave SE, in anticipation of future streetscaping along the street related to Medical District improvements. From Rick Smith’s City Room blog: “According to a city staff report to the council, Interstate Power and Light Co. needs to install a new transmission line along Seventh Street SE, and putting it underground would cost the city less now than to do it later. The city has agreed it would pay the extra cost to move lines underground, the staff report notes.” These improvements will help improve the aesthetic of the new Medical District and the area around downtown.

Events Center Development
A design team of OPN Architects, Ellerbe Becket and tvsdesign has been selected for the new Cedar Rapids Events Center, which will include a renovation and expansion of the existing US Cellular Center and a large addition housing new meeting and exhibit space. 3rd Street NE will be closed between 1st and A avenues and then new addition will occupy that space and half of the adjacent block, wrapping around behind the Roosevelt Hotel. Most likely the Roosevelt parking garage facing 1st Avenue will remain as well. This is a truly exciting project for downtown Cedar Rapids and will provide much needed upgrades to our convention facilities to attract more events and people downtown. The project timeline set out by the city is quite swift with construction to begin late next summer and be complete by the end of 2012. Keep up on the Events Center progress on the City’s CR Progress webpage.

Juvenile Justice Center Groundbreaking
A ceremonial groundbreaking took place this morning in the 800 block of 2nd Street SW for the new Linn County Juvenile Justice Center, which will house juvenile courts and related services that were formerly in the basement of the county courthouse on Mays Island. The building design was by Design Dynamics Inc. of Cedar Rapids; rendering below.

POSTED July 14. 2010 AT 8:51 PM  |  Cedar Rapids, Development, Transit  |  Comments Off

Spring Groundbreaking for Regional Commerce Center

 

The Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce intends to break ground this spring on a new three-story Regional Economic Commerce Center in downtown Cedar Rapids, with completion expected in early 2011. The modern, glass building will replacing the current bland, one-story Chamber of Commerce office at the corner of First Ave and 5th Street NE.

The new economic center was first proposed back in March as a 60,000 square foot, six-story building to house the chamber, convention and visitors bureau, and a number of other commerce-related organizations under one roof. Instead it will be built as a 30,000 square-foot, three-story building. The overall design appears to stay the same, simply reduced to three stories.

Despite the downsize, this is still a positive change for downtown. With the proposed convention center development and upgrades to the US Cellular Center, along with renovations currently underway at Theatre Cedar Rapids, this area along First Avenue through downtown should be seeing some major improvements over the next few years.

> Gazette: Regional Commerce Center close to ‘go’

POSTED November 5. 2009 AT 11:15 PM  |  Cedar Rapids, Development  |  2 COMMENTS

Good Noise for Downtown

The sound of piles being driven into the ground resonated through downtown this afternoon from the site of the new federal courthouse that is finally under construction after years of numerous delays. As other federal buildings had jumped ahead in priority over the years, last year’s flood put Cedar Rapids’ back on top. The new courthouse will be an incredible addition to the downtown skyline at a scale not seen for decades. The most recent significant addition to downtown was the Great America Building in 1998, just a block away from the new courthouse.

POSTED July 22. 2009 AT 7:50 PM  |  Cedar Rapids, Development  |  Comments Off

Parking replaces 100-year old houses on First Ave

A new 10,000 square foot, two-story professional office building is currently under construction at 1815 First Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids. The development is replacing four former residential properties at 1815, 1821, 1827, and 1833 First Ave SE, all built between 1900 and 1921. According to the Cedar Rapids Assessor’s records, these houses had all been converted into multi-tenant. None of these houses were in the best condition and understandably this area of First Avenue is very marketable for commercial use, so I’m not going to argue against the destruction of these century old homes, but the new use of the site is unfortunate.

Rendering of development at 1815 First Ave SE

Above is a rendering of the finished building. It is fairly suburban looking, but two-stories is nice and the scale is appropriate. The building is set back from the sidewalk about the same distance as existing older houses and commercial buildings nearby. My only real problem with this development is how much of the site fronting the sidewalk has been used for parking. The site is approximately 250 feet long (along First Avenue) and maybe 150 feet deep. The building was constructed on one end of the site with the rest left open for a parking lot.

If this type of new commercial development cannot survive without minimizing it’s parking requirement, or situating it more appropriately on the site, then perhaps this use does not belong here. I welcome reinvestment in this older part of the city – and especially diversification of uses, but it must be done respectfully and not diminish the urban quality that remains. 150 feet of parking lot along the sidewalk and the street is not progress, it is a gouge out of the former street edge that made this block pleasant to walk or drive down.

Below are the four houses that were torn down for this development, not to mention tree fatalities. The images are arranged in the same order of the former houses. How long will this kind of auto-centric redevelopment go unquestioned?

1833 1st Ave SE1827 1st Ave SE1821 1st Ave SE1815 1st Ave SE

1833 – built 1910, two story frame, three family conversion / 60 ft wide lot
1827 – built 1910, two story frame, four family conversion / 60 ft wide lot
1821 – built 1900, 1-1/2 story frame, three family conversion / 60 ft wide lot
1815 – built 1921, one story frame, two-family conversion / 60 ft wide lot

POSTED July 12. 2009 AT 3:30 PM  |  Cedar Rapids, Development, Urbanism  |  Comments Off

TCR could return downtown by next spring

With the help of a $1.5 million grant from Vision Iowa, Theatre Cedar Rapids and the Community Theatre Building Corp. hope to begin a $7.8 million expansion and renovation of the Iowa Theatre Building in downtown Cedar Rapids by the end of summer or early fall. FEMA is expected to contribute about $3.8 million for the flood-damaged building. According to the Gazette, “Outside the theater, visitors will see a new digital marquee. Inside, they will see a lobby that doubled in size. Larger restrooms, an open staff office and rehearsal space also are part of the project. The theater’s basement will house new dressing rooms, a make-up room, costume construction plus storage and rehearsal space.” Since the flood last June, TCR has been performing at the former “Let’s Dance” building by Lindale Mall.

POSTED July 8. 2009 AT 6:40 PM  |  Cedar Rapids, Development  |  Comments Off