Construction moves ahead on The Fountains

By Sarah Binder

CEDAR RAPIDS—Office, living and retail space will be within reach.

“It’s really a walkable community,” said Joe Ahmann , owner of Fusion Architects  and Compass Commercial Services, which are building The Fountains development. “Other than downtown, what we’re creating doesn’t exist. If you work in a regular office park, you’re going to drive to lunch, or to the grocery store or bank.”

The Fountains is a 19.3-acre mixed-use development under construction at the intersection of Edgewood Road NE and Blairs Ferry Road NE. It is one of few master-planned areas in Cedar Rapids, meaning one developer controls the entire complex and creates a cohesive design style. Mr. Ahmann estimated the entire project would cost between $30 million-$34 million.

The Fountains will include several mixed-use and office buildings, as well as landscaped public areas and ponds with lit fountains and seating. Phase one, which began construction in March, includes a 50,000-square-foot office building and two mixed-use commercial buildings totaling 26,500 square feet. The office building was prioritized after the project received city support, Mr. Ahmann said.

After hearing feedback from developers and businesses that the availability of office space was a reason businesses were moving to Hiawatha, the city of Cedar Rapids supported The Fountains with an estimated $3.7 million TIF (tax increment financing) deal in December.

Mr. Ahmann said he is in discussion with potential tenants, but no leases had been signed at press time. Ideally, both the office and mixed-use buildings could have early tenants moving in by the end of the year, he said.

“It’s pretty aggressive, but that’s what our team is charged to do,” he said.

Phase two of the project includes two more office buildings, at 50,000 and 90,000 square feet, and a 14,000-square-foot mixed-use building. The timing of construction on those depends on how quickly buildings in phase one fill up, he said.

In addition to Fusion Architects and Compass Commercial Services, Mr. Ahmann owns Ahmann Properties, a commercial real estate manager, and Ahmann Designs, which designs custom home plans and renovations.

“Our goal in development is to be as vertically integrated as possible,” he said. “The goal is to cover a project from an empty piece of land to leasing.”

Ahmann Designs was founded in 1991, and has built luxury custom homes in local, regional and national markets. During the mid 1990s, Mr. Ahmann purchased a piece of commercial land for office space for Ahmann Designs, and the property had extra space he could lease. Those were the early beginnings of Ahmann Properties, the commercial side of the business.

“It wasn’t a very active role at the time, it was more passive,” he said.

During the mid 2000s, Mr. Ahmann wanted to diversify his businesses. Fusion Architects was spun off as a separate company serving commercial clients. It completed the project now known as Boyson Square in Hiawatha, a mixed-use development including a daycare, restaurant, workout facility and office space.

After many years of working with a company in Des Moines, the contractor Mr. Ahmann was accustomed to declared bankruptcy. Compass Commercial Services was founded that day to continue providing contracting and construction management services to Fusion Architects and Ahmann Properties, he said.

Today, about half of the business Mr. Ahmann oversees comes from Compass, around a quarter comes from Ahmann Properties and the remaining business is split between the architecture and home design companies.

While he founded his first business based on a love of home design, Mr. Ahmann said he now enjoys being able to see more sides of a construction project.

“It’s really kind of exciting to take something from a blank slate,” he said.