There's Change in the Air in Cedar Rapids, IA

See how new development investments are enhancing hospitality, recreation and education.

By
Patsy B. Weiler
On Friday, January 17, 2020 - 16:24
Cedar Rapids, IA: City Hall

Redevelopment projects all over town are bringing new energy and improving community connections for residents.

For instance, over the past three years Downtown Cedar Rapids alone has seen almost $534 million in investment for 19 major projects cited in Cedar Rapids Economic Alliance’s “Building To A Billion and Beyond” annual report.

Major Investment in Hospitality

Heart of America Group, a hospitality and real estate development company, is spearheading the largest two-building historic preservation and redevelopment project in the history of the city. The six-story Guaranty Bank Building and World Theatre at Third Street and Third Avenue SE will be transformed into more than 162,000 square feet and upward of 200 hotel rooms in two Marriott hotels. Also included are two new restaurants, a shared fitness center and 1,500 square feet of event space.

A Courtyard by Marriott property will be located in the bank building with a Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse on the first floor, and a nine-story AC Hotel is rising on a former parking lot, featuring a rooftop bar and restaurant called the Republic.

“The remarkable thing about the citizens and leadership of Cedar Rapids is they took the devastating flood of 2008 and saw it as a clarion call to action,” says Mike Whalen, founder of Heart of America Group.

“They fired into motion and started running toward the future.”

“Twelve years later, dynamic changes are happening across the city. We are excited about making a $51 million investment in downtown under the Marriott flag, with the renewal of almost an entire city block. Our plan is for the project to be completed in 2021,” Whalen adds.

Creating a Cedar River Showpiece

On the edge of downtown, a proposed $20 million project called ConnectCR includes a bike trail, urban lake restoration and a pedestrian bridge. The project aims to revitalize the 120-acre Cedar Lake as a recreational hub. The bridge will be a 14-foot-wide split-deck expanse over the Cedar River that will connect the Czech Village/New Bohemia neighborhoods and complete the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.

A key architectural centerpiece of the bridge will be its eye-catching 192-foot support structure that will replicate Sinclair Smokestack, a nod to the area’s meatpacking history and a former landmark.

“We have always had the foundation of a trail system in our downtown. ConnectCR will build on the popularity and use of biking and pedestrian trails that have taken off in the last few years,” says Dale Todd, District 3 city councilman.

“This project will connect communities, provide an enhanced quality of life experience and become a regional destination.”

Cedar Rapids, IA: Coe College
Nathan Lambrecht

Transforming the College District

Tucked between Mount Mercy University and Coe College, change is on tap for an established community located in the northeast quadrant called the College District. An action plan established by the city includes a pedestrian master plan, streetscaping and new zoning. Plus, the two schools have helped jumpstart the revitalization with an investment of $40 million to upgrade athletic facilities.

“With two institutions of higher education anchoring the district, a strong and active neighborhood association and renewed commercial interest, the College District has seen tremendous revitalization in recent years,” says Adam Lindenlaub, a planner in the city’s Community Development Department.

“The area has blossomed under new investment from the neighboring colleges – extension of walking trails and new entertainment and dining options – all supported through recent city-led zoning updates.”

New Housing Options

On the town’s outskirts near Eastern Iowa Airport, the $20 million American Prairie project is slated to bring 583 residential units — a mix of single-family homes, multifamily units and duplexes — to 140 acres off of Wright Brothers Boulevard SW. When completed, it will be the largest residential development in Cedar Rapids and include 4.5 acres for public parks and recreational trails and nearly five acres for commercial use.

“Cedar Rapids is a place that is moving right along. If someone has not been here for the last five years or so and would come now, they would be surprised at all the changes going on. When the dust settles, it all is going to be amazing,” says lifelong Cedar Rapids resident Dawn Miller.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Patsy B. Weiler is based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Her introduction to writing came in a high school journalism class and her love of crafting words still continues.