Tag: parking

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.

Green Parking Lot

Green parking lot

This past Saturday I went to the outskirts of Rome to check out IKEA. Just as interesting to see the inner city of Rome, are the contemporary suburban areas. The store is located just outside the A90 ring road near Anagnina, the last stop on the Metro A line, so it took a while to get there. A number of bus lines run from the metro station to the shopping center where IKEA is. The store was about what I expected it to be (after all, they in America) but I did enjoy seeing a European big box store.

I especially liked the parking lot, which had natural “green” parking spaces instead of pavement. While the driving areas were still asphalt, the actual spaces were left as turf. A plastic honeycomb shaped structure is laid down and filled with gravel and topsoil, permitting short turf to grow. This reduces storm water runoff, partially filters water as it permeates into the ground, and is much more attractive. It also allows trees to be planted between spaces without needing large landscape islands.

I haven’t looked into cost comparisons between this system and all-pavement. While I imagine these systems require some degree of regular maintenance, it seems like they’d be much more sustainable (lifetime and environmentally) than all asphalt, which gets cracked and uneven quickly, needing to be entirely repaved after 10 years. Alternatively I’ve also seen parking lots here with the spaces paved in brick or pavers, to control settling from the weight of vehicles in addition to some permeability.

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

New Structured Parking

A new parking garage is under construction at a very visible corner in downtown Cedar Rapids. United Fire & Casualty Co. is building a new three story ramp on a company-owned surface lot adjacent to its building on Second Avenue SE. The new parkade will front 2nd Ave and 1st Street SE. The design by Solum Lang Architects of Cedar Rapids, is extremely plain as seen in the rendering below.

I am normally not a fan of additional parking structures in downtown – which the business community and general public seems to laud as necessary for the success of downtown. I think better parking management and people being willing to walk one or two blocks from the car (not to mention alternative transportation) would solve any perceived parking problem there is in downtown. However, since this is a privately funded and owned structure, being constructed on a relatively small site that otherwise would likely remain an open parking lot for years, I do not have that much issue with it. I would argue it should at least have ground level retail space to contribute to activity on the sidewalk, but that would extremely limit the parking capacity of the structure as it is such a small site.

Adjacent to the site along 1st Street is a one story retail / commercial building (seen in far left in image above) and across 1st Street is the federal courthouse, damaged in last year’s flood, which will become property of the City once the new federal courthouse is opened. Across 2nd Avenue from the site is the Alliant Energy Tower, and kitty-corner to it is the now structurally-deficient First Street Parkade. This city-owned parking structure has long been slated for replacement by the future intermodal transportation facility at a new site, which has also spent many years in the planning and re-planning stage.

Flood Recovery Update

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.

Post-flood transit, clean up begins

Transit service resumed today after being suspended since Thursday due to the historic flooding that has occurred in Cedar Rapids and the midwest. Since the GTC, about a block from the river, was right in the middle of the flood zone, a temporary on-street transfer site was set up at 4th Avenue and 12th Street SE. No revised maps or schedules have been made available yet, but additional transit staff were available at the transfer point to assist passengers. Only one bus was running on each route so service was hourly all day.

I am working with the Veterans Memorial Commission this summer, which takes care of the Veterans Memorial Building on Mays Island, which houses city hall offices. The basement and mezzanine levels were completely submerged by flood water pushed in from the attached underground parking garage. The first floor also had about two feet of standing water, completely ruining the auditorium floor and numerous artifacts in the Spanish American War Memorial Room that houses the VMC office.

I was back to work Tuesday, mostly picking up sandbags and debris at the police station, library, and public works as we aren’t able to do much work in City Hall until the water goes down. Today the downtown bridges were reopened to traffic and downtown was alive, getting right to work on cleaning up. I’ve heard it could take weeks to get power back to downtown so it will certainly be along time until it is back to normal. My hope is that downtown can comeback bigger and better than it was before. While the flood will inevitable hurt small shops and businesses the most, it appears the extensive damage could expedite some large projects planned for downtown.

According to a June 18, Gazette article, Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley want the federal government to move ahead with construction of the planned new federal courthouse, which has been continuously delayed for the past fifteen years, instead of spending time and money on repairs to the current facility which would be inadequate anyway. This seems like a sensible idea and then the current courthouse could be renovated right away into mixed-use as is planned by the City of Cedar Rapids when it is transferred ownership in exchanged for the land slated for the new courthouse at 8th Ave SE between the river and 2nd Street. The site will of course be elevated so the new courthouse will be above the 500 year flood plane.

Another project that could become even more of a priority is the planned intermodal transportation facility which has been changed a number of times over the past five to ten years of initial planning. Now slated for 3rd Street SE around 9th Ave SE, the facility would include a parking garage to replace the First Street Parkade along the riverfront that has reached the end of its useful lifetime. Small repairs and patches have kept it open in recent years but according to some parking guys I was working with on Tuesday, the flood waters more than likely put it in disrepair. Personally I don’t think downtown needs another parking garage and that there is plenty of parking already, but it’d be good to see this and other projects move forward.


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