Bustling Cedar Rapids

I am back in Cedar Rapids for the summer, following a stimulating semester abroad in Rome and my own travels beyond. (Blog posts regarding those travels still to come…) I am interning at a prominent local architecture firm in downtown Cedar Rapids. Today was my first day; I believe it went well, but I must say I was quite disappointed in the total lack of activity around downtown. Whenever I am away for a long period of time I seem to re-envision downtown as a much more bustling place. Obviously the city center took a major hit from the 2008 flood, and a recent article in the Gazette explains ground level tenant space has been slower to reoccupy; but even so, it’s a bit discouraging when at 10am there are maybe five pedestrians out, just scattered traffic, and several premium on-street parking spaces vacant. (And people still think we have a parking problem) Downtown has a lot of good things going for it right now, and coming on over the next couple of years, so hopefully the situation will improve dramatically. Time will tell.

Once I get my travel posts written, I look forward to shifting focus back to CR. My first topic to tackle will be the controversial proposal to close 2nd Ave for PCI’s new medical mall (a letter to the elected’s could be called for). Also I plan to follow the renovation work to take place at the Veterans Memorial Building, now that City Hall will return there for certain, as well as new developments coming on board like the new convention center and the massive US Courthouse now under construction. Another matter that has recently caught my attention is the on-going demolition of flooded homes in Time Check. It’s time for another great summer in Cedar Rapids.

5 Comments

  1. Spencer Walrath

    May 17, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    I completely agree. I’ve been visiting downtown since I’ve been back home and it feels like a ghost town. I am super excited to see the bike racks on the front of city buses. I haven’t seen them utilized too much yet, but I am optimistic that there will be an increase once the weather turns nicer. I remember seeing a podcast about bus-mounted bike racks in metropolises like San Francisco and New York (I think) and thinking, “It’d be so cool to have that in Cedar Rapids.” It’s very exciting for me to see Cedar Rapids making these strides towards promoting healthier lifestyles and reducing our dependence on cars.

  2. Your problem is you’re not in downtown at the correct time, I recommend going out between 7:55-8:05 am and 4:55-5:05 pm.

    Although it is easy to think downtown took a major hit due to the flood, it was never easy to find a restaurant to eat after 3 pm, and if you were one of the customers everyone wanted (and still wants) to come downtown and shop on the weekends, you couldn’t find an open place to spend your money.

    I think one of the hardest parts of rebuilding downtown is everyone having to admit downtown wasn’t a destination before the flood and drastic things have to take place to overcome both it’s history and 10 feet of water.

  3. Well I for one am glad you’ve returned to CR for the summer. Your observations about the quiet downtown are spot-on, but it’s a problem created by more than the flood. The development and malls at the outside edges of town have been reducing the downtown to a shadow of its former self for decades. The flood just pushed some groups over the edge.

    I think you’re right, there’s a lot to look forward to in CR, like the library project, a new mass-transit project, and many more improvements to the community are in process.

    Anyway, welcome back. I suspect we have a lot to talk about.

  4. I think things will get better with time. The problem is there is so little downtown housing, so the only time you see people out and about is over lunch hour on a nice day. Also, since most buildings are linked to the parkades via the skywalk, you never see people walking along the street to get to their cars in the evening. It would be nice to see developers propose some downtown housing either by the new library or the courthouse, which will also help attract more businesses.

    By the way, welcome…I finally made the connection! Hopefully you’re enjoying your internship.

  5. Brady Dorman

    June 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Thanks for all the feedback and sorry it took me this long to notice and de-spam your comments. I think you all make good points, especially about downtown’s pre-flood condition not really being that active either.

    However since many of the ground level spaces still remain vacant – and civic buildings like the library, GTC, and VMC still sit empty on life support, I think that definitely adds to to perception. But the flood also provided downtown with a host of opportunities.

    The new courthouse is redefining our skyline, decision on a new library and transit facility will expand the core and provide redevelopment opportunities near the river, a new / expanded convention center will hopefully attract more visitors, and City Hall is returning to Mays Island and will make use of the former federal courthouse.

    These large projects will be anchors for reactivating downtown, but the smaller, infill projects are what will keep it going and prove whether or not downtown can once again be a vibrant urban neighborhood. Like Nick said, more housing will be critical to create and retain a demand for more [convenience] businesses and attractions downtown that can give it life after 5pm.

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