Tag: New Bohemia

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.

City Updates – July 6

More news and views from Cedar Rapids:

Freedom Festival
The Freedom Festival fireworks returned to downtown this 4th of July, after a two year hiatus following the flood of 2008. It was great having the fireworks back downtown, but unfortunately they were launched from the green space on Mays Island, rather than a small barge as in years past, so the island and both 2nd and 3rd avenue bridges were closed off to spectators. Mays Island and the two bridges have long been center of fireworks festivities with food vendors lining the bridges and a band stand set up on the green. It is one of the only times our civic island is actually used anymore. Most days it sits empty and lifeless, extending the divide between our east and west, rather than uniting them through a grand civic park it once was.

According to Russ Oviatt, Freedom Festival operations director, “The launch site change was necessitated after the existing barge arrangement that had been used for a number of years was no longer an option.” No explanation for why the barge is no longer an option, but it sounds likely this will be the case from now on.

From Freedom Festival executive director Janet Wilhelm, “It’s not unexpected that even though the Celebration of Freedom fireworks are returning to downtown Cedar Rapids this year, it will take several years to establish a new “traditional” downtown venue.”

I hope another launch site can be found in downtown. Cedar Rapids undoubtedly has one of the best fireworks celebrations in the region – it would be a real shame to stop taking advantage of our unique island venue, that has united east and west neighbors on the 4th of July for years.

In other fireworks news, the Ellis Fireworks also returned this year, put on by the Cedar Rapids Boat Club. The annual display traditionally held on July 3 near Ellis Park along the Cedar River, was postponed in 2008 following the flood and was cancelled in 2009 due to ongoing flood recovery efforts in the surrounding neighborhood.

Czech Village Roundhouse
Business leaders in Czech Village hope to raise over $2 million to rebuild the Riverside Roundhouse, elevated on a new concrete-deck with parking underneath. The Roundhouse was built in 1962, in Czech Village and used for a farmers market until it was moved downtown in 2007. Following the flood neighborhood business owners dismantled the steel structural skeleton and put it into storage with intentions to reconstruct it someday. The former site will now be occupied by the National Czech and Slovak Museum building, which will be moved and elevated from its current adjacent site, on the banks of the Cedar River between 12th and 16th avenues SW.

Proposed Czech Village Roundhouse, from Ament, Inc.
Czech Village Roundhouse rendering by Ament, Inc.

The proposed new Roundhouse site is at 17th Avenue and B Street SW, which is to the south behind the main commercial strip of 16th Avenue between A Street and C Street SW. The proposal, devised by Ament, Inc., would place the reconstructed Roundhouse atop a 14,400 square foot concrete deck with parking space for 24 cars underneath at ground level. The rendering above, created by Ament, Inc., shows the proposal. Business owner Alex Anderson who is spearheading the fundraising effort says the building will be used for Czech Village events and hopes to be completed by 2012.

I am not against this project, but I question its feasibility and cost-benefit. While saving the Roundhouse is a noble venture, it seems unreasonable to spend that much money to elevate a building that is little more than a steel skeleton with a minimal interior finish. Construction of the concrete deck for the building to sit on would constitute the bulk of the $2 million cost, and an elevator to make it universally accessible would cost $250,000, according to the Gazette.

An alternative would be to reconstruct the Roundhouse at grade (even built up a few feet) with awareness of potential future flooding. This would eliminate the enormous cost of the concrete deck and the need for an elevator (which would be affected by flooding regardless). Think of what else that same amount of money could be spent on in the village. Read more on the Gazette.

Mexican Restaurants Downtown
The history of the Brosh Funeral Home and Chapel building in New Bohemia became clearer last week when 83 year-old Harvey Viall came forward with his story and photos of working at the building in the early 1950s when it was a station for the Denver-Chicago Trucking Company, which had transported weapons and other goods for the military during World War II.

Two weeks ago the owner of Papa Juan’s/Stefano’s announced he wants to open a new Mexican restaurant in the building, but cannot afford to without historic tax credits and exemption from raising the building above the 2008 flood level, which would only be available if the building is granted “contributing” historical status. A new application is now being sent in for historic status based on its connection to World War II. If approved, plans are to invest $900,000 in renovations and have the new restaurant open for business within four months of obtaining permits. Read more here from the Gazette.

Further north in downtown, another new Mexican restaurant is planned for ground floor space in the Berthel Fisher & Co. building at the corner of First Avenue and Second Street SE. La Cantina will open just a few doors down from the long-standing Gringos Mexican restaurant on First Avenue. A new restaurant here is positive news for improving the vitality and activeness of downtown.

First Street Parkade
The nearly 50 year-old First Street Parkade downtown will be demolished soon. Read more at Urban Corridor.

City Developments

It’s been a busy news week in Cedar Rapids regarded the city’s future and upcoming redevelopment.

New City Manager
On Tuesday night the City Council unanimously voted in favor of hiring current West Des Moines City Manager Jeff Pomeranz for the position here in Cedar Rapids. He’s been lauded by the Council and others for the prosperity and growth West Des Moines has experienced for the past several years. Others have raised the important point that, unlike Cedar Rapids, West Des Moines is a suburb that benefits from the larger city and metro of Des Moines, but does not share the same burden of problems associated with the dominant center city.

There have also been grumbles about the method of choosing Pomeranz, which was done mostly out of public sight. I have have no real objections, but think he would’ve been better received by the public if the process had been more transparent. That said, I’m happy the city was able to fill the position with a qualified individual so quickly and look forward to see what he can do. A balance between good public relations, working well with the Council, and professional leadership and management skills will be critical for the success of any city manager.

Fate of the Smokestack
The historic 171 foot tall Sinclair smokestack will no longer be saved. An analysis of the structure concluded over half of if would need to be taken down by hand, brick by brick, to stabilize it before reconstructing and restoring it. This not only increased cost estimates for the restoration work, but also would risk losing FEMA funding for demolition of the Sinclair industrial site because work would need to be halted at this point until the stack is stabilized. The City Council voted to let the smokestack go and will likely be taken down sometime next week as demolition work continues. It is inevitably time for this piece of Cedar Rapids history to come down. While disappointing, I’m glad an effort was at least made to see if it could be reasonably preserved.

TrueNorth + Library
The biggest news this week in downtown redevelopment was the city’s decision to sell the flood-damaged library to TrueNorth to redevelop for their own use. TrueNorth is vacating its current building at 4th Avenue and 5th Street SE, for construction of a new central library. This stirs suspicion among many citizen skeptics that this was a back-room deal between city leaders and TrueNorth. TrueNorth is selling their property to the city for $7.5 million and offered to pay $250,000 for the old library, in addition to a $10,000 per month lease fee to the city for up to 15 months to stay in its current building while the library is being renovated for the company.

Two other offers were submitted to the city. Intermec (by way of a separate buyer) offered $350,000 for the library, with plans to relocate from their current building across the street. A third offer from Jody Keener of J.K. Properties LLC proposed turning the old library into a toy museum and retail outlet. (I don’t think anyone saw that one coming)

The city calculated the financial tax impact each proposal would have on the city over ten years and determined TrueNorth would provide the most at $1.26 million, Intermec $924,000, and the toy museum, unsurprisingly, only $84,000 (assuming it lasted that long). Additionally TrueNorth said it will invest a minimum of $7.5 million in the building and retain 120 jobs and create 50 new jobs in the future. The Dummermuth family, which intended to purchased and lease the library to Intermec, planned to reinvest $3.8 million in the building and an additional $2.2 million in furniture and equipment. Intermec would retain 252 high-paying jobs downtown.

Now that the decision is made, design and construction work can commence to renovate the former library into an office building to fit the needs of TrueNorth. We will likely see much of the ground floor converted to parking and the second level expanded across the entire building footprint. TrueNorth evidently has suggested they might also have room in the old library for Intermec. To accommodate both companies, considering the current spaces they each occupy, I imagine the library would need to be expanded even more – perhaps even a third story. This is of course all speculation on my part, but if they work together this could turn out to be a very interesting transformation.

Mexican in NewBo
The owner of Papa Juan’s/Stefano’s in northeast Cedar Rapids wants to open another Mexican restaurant at the former Brosh Funeral Home and Chapel at 10th Ave and 3rd Street SE in New Bohemia, but technicalities about part of the building’s historical status will determine if they can. Without a “contributing” historical status they can not benefit from historic tax credits and would be required to raise the building above the flood level. If it goes their way plans are to invest $900,000 in renovations and be open for business within four months of obtaining permits. The effort seem like a far stretch, but having another restaurant – and occupied building – in that area would be great. Read more here

Army Corps’ Flood Protection Feasibility Study
The results emerging from the Army Corps of Engineers’ feasibility study for a flood protection system along the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids are not looking good. The City and the Corps had a public open house today at the Crowne Plaza to present the current status and process of the study and preliminary alternatives they are coming up with. A flood protection system considered economically feasible by the Army Corps of Engineers would only protect the east bank and involve a permanent flood wall in front of downtown.

This plan stands in stark contrast to the City’s preferred plan which includes an extensive combination of earth levys on the west side and away from downtown, permanent walls by industries, and sections of removable flood walls by downtown, Czech Village, and a few access points along the proposed northwest greenway. Cedar Rapids will most certainly need to compromise on the preferred plan if any system is to ever actually get funded and built, but if the Army Corps’ proposed half-protection system is the best we can [maybe] get, it begs the question if it is even worth it. As of now the City is still pushing to get the funding for the comprehensive flood protection system that will maintain a connection between downtown and the river, and provide protection for the west side as well. More information about the system and the city’s preferred plan can be found here. Also check out another post about the flood protection system at Urban Corridor.

ISU Bridge Studio ideas for Oakhill Jackson / New Bo

Neighborhood Network News has posted video of last Saturday’s (Jan 23) “Imagine a Vital Neighborhood” urban design conference in Cedar Rapids. Architecture students from Iowa State University’s Bridge Arch 601 Graduate Studio presented design proposals and strategies for sustainable redevelopment in Oakhill Jackson and New Bohemia. I haven’t watched the videos entirely yet, but there were a range of ideas from more abstract and statistical to more specific design proposals. One intriguing idea was very ambitious, proposing a residential high rise and retail complex including a Target store – on par with mixed-use urban big box developments found in several larger US cities. A common theme was to reuse building materials (like from Farmstead) for new construction in the neighborhood.

The videos are definitely worth a watch. Special thanks to Robin Kash for posting these and other community meeting videos on Neighborhood Network News.

Neighborhood Network News: Urban Design Conference Videos
> 1 – Intro, Overview and Opening Discussion
> 2 – Student Presentations
> 3 – Discussion of Student Presentations

Imagine a Vital Neighborhood Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids-based, non-profit organization S.E.E.D. (Sustainable Ecological Economic Development) will be hosting a Sustainability Symposium “Imagine a Vital Neighborhood” this Saturday with architecture grad students from Iowa State University. Students will present design proposals to stimulate ideas for building a pedestrian friendly, sustainable neighborhood in the Oakhill Jackson and New Bo areas near downtown Cedar Rapids.

S.E.E.D. founder and Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association President Michael Richards has been collaborating with the College of Design’s “Bridge Studio” for two years. The first year students developed prototype designs for post-flood affordable housing that received the grand prize for the 2009 NCARB Prize for Creative Integration of Practice and Education in the Academy. Professors Clare Cardinal-Pett, Peter Goche, and Nadia Anderson, who was my studio instructor this past fall, will be leading the event.

Anyone interested in the revitalization of these neighborhoods and making a more livable, sustainable Cedar Rapids is encouraged to attend. The forum will be held from 10am – 5pm, this Saturday, Jan. 23, at the Community Conference Hall in the Horizons Building, 819 5th St. SE. More information about the event can be found on BJ Smith’s Puncture Proof blog.

> Bridge Studio
> S.E.E.D.
> Puncture Proof: Forum promotes pedstrian-friendly neighborhoods

Parlor City opens in New Bohemia

I had dinner tonight at Parlor City, a new pub and grill that has opened in a renovated 100 year-old building (see photo) that was flood damaged last summer in New Bohemia. The food was decent and the atmosphere was friendly. The menu features an historic image of the building, formerly the Iowa State Savings Bank, that can also be seen on their website. The restaurant’s name is appropriately a former nick-name of the city. Long before the fifth season came around, Cedar Rapids used to be called the Parlor City for its beauty and cleanliness. At the corner of 12th Ave and 3rd Street SE, this is a great addition to the neighborhood and a good example of a flooded building coming back better than before.

> Parlor City Pub and Eatery

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