Tag: Linn County

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.

Witwer Building + Downtown Hotels

Witwer Building, Cedar Rapids

The Witwer Building at 303 2nd Ave SE in downtown Cedar Rapids was originally the Post Office and Federal Building when built in 1908. (The original structure actually dates back to the 1890s, but was completely rebuilt in a different style in 1908.) It is currently owned by Linn County and housed community service-related offices and a senior center before the flood. The county now has plans to sell the building, which presents some compelling redevelopment opportunities. For instance, County Supervisor Linda Langston announced last week that a developer had been looking at the site for a boutique hotel at one point. However, she noted it is now more likely the building would be made into offices. Despite this reality, let’s entertain the hotel idea for a moment.

A small, boutique hotel in downtown could help increase nightlife activity downtown and the uniqueness of it would be attractive to certain visitors who otherwise would not stay at a hotel in downtown. The building itself seems appropriately sized to accommodate 10-15 guest rooms and perhaps a restaurant or upscale lounge on the first level. The site is at a very good location to synergize with other downtown attractions. Within a two block range is Theatre Cedar Rapids, the Paramount Theatre, the US Cellular Center and future Cedar Rapids Events Center, along with some existing bars and restaurants.

In addition to more housing, it is important to diversify the kinds of amenities and attractions in downtown to create a more lively, 24-hour neighborhood. While a specialty hotel seems pretty unlikely at this point, if one were to be developed, I’d be cautious to doubt its potential for success, as similar ventures have worked very well in other comparable cities.

Hotel Donaldson, FargoA great example of a new high-end niche hotel succeeding in a modest midwestern downtown is the Hotel Donaldson in Fargo, North Dakota. The “HoDo” was built in 1894 as a meeting hall, and opened as a hotel around 1915 when a third floor was added. Deteriorated over the decades, Karen Stoker bought the hotel in 2000 and renewed the building into a modern upscale hotel with 17 guest rooms, a high-end restaurant and lounge, and a variety of small meeting spaces including the “Sky Prairie” rooftop garden. Since its rebirth the Hotel Donaldson has been very successful and a pivotal part of Fargo’s downtown revitalization. There is also a dominant Radisson Hotel in downtown Fargo, plus a mid-level Howard Johnson on the edge – similar to Cedar Rapids’ arrangement with the Crowne Plaza and Coppers Mill Hotel.

In the past downtown Cedar Rapids was home to several hotels as it was the active hub of the city and for the decades the grand entry for visitors at Union Station, which most tragically was demolished in 1961, and replaced with a parking garage. Nearby the station and along the 4th Street tracks were a number of large hotels. Between 1st and 2nd avenues, sat the Allison Hotel and Magnus Hotel, both handsome, five-story brick buildings adjacent to the tracks. Unlike today, the corridor of tracks were responded to by buildings much like they would to normal street facades.

Unfortunately nearly all the original buildings along the tracks are now gone and nearly all remain as vacant lots or lifeless parking structures. The half-block site where the Allison and Magnus hotels stood is now the parking lot next to TCR that had been used for a number of years for the BBQ Round Up. Other nearby downtown hotels included the four-story Taft Hotel on 2nd Avenue next to the tracks and the six-story Montrose Hotel at the corner of 3rd Ave and 3rd Street SE. The Taft Hotel is now a parking lot behind the art museum and the Montrose Hotel was replaced by the five-story Town Centre office building around 1990.

Allison Hotel, downtown Cedar Rapids Magnus Hotel, downtown Cedar Rapids
Allison Hotel (left) and Magnus Hotel sat along the 4th Street tracks between 1st and 2nd avenues.

Taft Hotel, downtown Cedar Rapids Montrose Hotel, downtown Cedar Rapids
The Taft Hotel (left) was on 2nd Avenue SE east of the 4th Street tracks. The Montrose Hotel was located at 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue SE.

The historic hotel photographs are taken from Then & Now: Cedar Rapids Downtown and Beyond by George T. Henry and Mark W. Hunter, excerpts available on Google books.

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