Downtown Progress
Most of downtown is pretty much cleaned up now and many major buildings and businesses are back up and running. Plenty of first floor spaces remain unfinished, likely waiting for new tenants to refinish to their needs. Sidewalk damage is still apparent on many streets. Large areas of sidewalk brick that were washed out on 2nd Street SE, have been patched temporarily with concrete.

On the south end of downtown and in the New Bohemia area, damage from the flood is still much more visible. A few buildings in New Bohemia – CSPS, the Cedar Rapids Peace Center, and a group of storefronts (photo) at 3rd St. and 12th Ave – are being worked on, but many remain unfixed. A few open lots are visible where some houses have already been demolished. See all downtown photos from this week here.

Downtown Parking
The most noticeable change downtown is back-in angle parking (photo) on many streets, instituted after the flood. I believe most of these on street spaces were permit spaces only, as most of the parking meters are still absent. On Monday evening, Dennis Burns of Carl Walker parking consultants, presented, free of charge, strategies to improve downtown parking to support downtown economic development, at a public meeting at the Crowne Plaza. I attended with about 50 others, mostly downtown businessmen and women.

Dennis discussed two successful systems in Boise and Boulder and explained how their parking facilities and policies support economic development and help finance downtown improvements. Overall he stressed the importance of aligning the city parking operations with downtown economic development organizations. He pointed out that adding on street angle parking is an inexpensive and easy way to instantly increase parking capacity.

New downtown library likely
FEMA declared this week the flooded CR Public Library hit the 50 percent threshold meaning FEMA would help fund total replacement of the current building instead of repairing it. This is critical to the library that desires to return to downtown but without future flood risk at the current site, located less than a block from the Cedar River. A special request will need to be made for FEMA funding to build the new library at a different location. According to the Gazette report, cost to repairing the library is estimated at $17 million compared to $24 million for a new library at a different site in downtown.

It’s unclear how long off the new library could be, considering no officially decisions have been made, but another opportunity for new development and improvement downtown. I’m interested in the redevelopment potential of the current library site – especially with the new courthouse going up and proposal for Great America Building 2 across the street. I always felt the low, plain library building would hold this area back from its urban potential.

Since the flood the CR Public Library has been operating out of its Westdale Mall branch location. Last month a new, larger temp location called “The Bridge” opened in the former Osco Drug store at the mall. Gazette city government reporter Rick Smith reports on his blog, the library intends to open a temporary location in downtown this summer at 221 Third Street SE.

Federal Courthouse
Ground breaking has yet to take place for the new federal courthouse on the south end of downtown but that day is approaching. First Street was closed at the beginning of March between 7th and 8th avenues. The new courthouse will span two blocks from the river to 2nd Street SE. The site (photo), formerly property of Mid American Energy has been cleared and sits vacant waiting for construction to begin.