CR, Linn County consider proposals for Knutson, Mott buildings

By Cindy Hadish

CEDAR RAPIDS—The Cedar Rapids City Council will consider proposals for redeveloping one of the city’s oldest commercial structures at a meeting this month, while Linn County is separately accepting proposals for a neighboring historic building.

A potential synergy between the two riverfront properties could create an influx of loft-style housing and retail stores, restaurants or office space, but a variety of hurdles must first be overcome.

Known as the Knutson Building, the 1885 city-owned structure at 525 Valor Way SW withstood the 2008 flood next to the Cedar River, but little work has been performed on the building in the past six years.

Adam Lindenlaub, Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) manager in the Cedar Rapids Community Development Department, said the city received two proposals for the half-acre site and building. The council will consider accepting one at its meeting at 4 p.m. Oct. 21.

Next door, Linn County has set a Nov. 7 deadline for development proposals for the Mott Building, at 42 Seventh Ave. SW. The building has been in county hands since 1995 when it was purchased for $390,000 as a potential new location for county office space.

A state of disrepair

The two sites draw a contrast in upkeep.

Built in 1902, the county-owned Mott Building was cleaned out after it was hit with three feet of floodwaters on its main level in 2008, said Joi Bergman, Linn County communications director. Used for storage at the time, the cleanup included pumping water out of the building and removing all of the contents.

The three-story building is dry and said to be structurally sound, with a massive limestone foundation, exposed heavy timber posts, high ceilings and brick interior walls in an open floor plan.

City officials are unsure whether or not the Knutson Building – then in private hands as a scrap metal business – was mucked out after the 2008 flood. In its current state, water coats the basement floor, a tree grows from a riverfront side rooftop, and a broken window allows entry for animals, vandals or both.

During an open house for developers this summer, facemasks did little to hide the stench emitting from inside.

Sven Leff, the city’s Parks and Recreation director whose department was placed in charge of the building, said although it may appear that the city put little effort into cleaning or securing the building, the grounds were cleared of debris to make it safe to walk outside. The doors have been locked, but Mr. Leff agreed that more could have been done.

“In the year I’ve had the keys, we hadn’t done anything with it,” he said. Roof repairs and other work on the building would have cost money that the city wasn’t prepared to invest in the site, he added.

The city purchased the Knutson Metal Co. property in 2012 for $1.5 million – far more than its assessed value of $98,891, according to the City Assessor’s website. At the time, city council members cited the owner closing his scrap metal business as part of that expense.

Though the building is said to be structurally sound, renovations could prove expensive for the developer. The city’s request for proposals contained a variety of stipulations, including a costly move or elevation of the structure.

The city plans to build a levee in the area for flood protection.

Based on initial plans, enough space is available for the levee to be built next to the Mott Building, but not the Knutson Building, and city staff said flood protection plans require elevating the structure up to 14 feet or relocating the building up to 100 yards away.

Still, city leaders say they want someone to save the building, which served as a condensed milk factory, a woodworking plant for gunstocks, a bar and a haunted house at various points in its life.

“Right now, I have some hope,” Mr. Leff said. “There is hope that one of these companies can restore it and that nothing is lost and forgotten.”

High hopes

Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson said numerous developers have shown interest in the Mott Building. Suggestions have included housing with a mix of retail, restaurant or office space, Mr. Oleson said.

The county had the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places and included maintaining the building’s historic integrity in its request for proposals for the 1.3-acre site.

That historic designation is important for developers, who could recoup nearly 50 percent of rehabilitation expenses in the form of federal and state historic tax credits. The city was still awaiting word from the State Historic Preservation Office on the status of the Knutson Building when the deadline for proposals passed on Sept. 30.

Constructed as an office and warehouse for the Iowa Wind Mill and Pump Co., the Mott Building is named for J.D. Mott – a later name for the Iowa Pipe and Supply Co. that was housed in the building, said Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter. The building also was used in later years by Cedar Rapids Presort.

Mr. Oleson said having both sites on the market at the same time could be a plus, but he is unsure what the future holds for the Knutson Building.

“If a businessman can find a way to get it done, I wish them well,” he said.

Mr. Oleson noted that part of the proceeds from the sale of the Mott Building will go toward $250,000 for a piece of world-class art for Greene Square Park, which is undergoing renovations next year.

At the same time, the sale of the building isn’t solely about money, he added.

“The county doesn’t just want to sell it to the top bidder,” Mr. Oleson said. “This building is special to the county board of supervisors. We really think it needs to be in the right hands.”