Make casino site a downtown catalyst

CBJ Editorial 

In early 2000s the city of Iowa City had a prime piece of land in its downtown that it wanted developed.

City leaders were wise to select developer Marc Moen and his Plaza Towers project, which was completed in 2005.

That 14-story upscale development, which includes apartments, condos, a boutique hotel and several commercial spaces, was a transformative step for Iowa City’s downtown. It served as a catalyst for development, spurring its transition from idyllic Big 10 college town to dynamic urban city.

Cedar Rapids has a similar opportunity on the burner in its Kingston Village neighborhood on the west side of the downtown area.

A city-owned site between the Cedar River and I-380 once earmarked for a casino could be Cedar Rapids’ catalyst for more downtown development if developed properly.

Two development proposals have been submitted to the city for possible incentives later this spring.

One development is from a group of local developers and businesspeople that aptly decided to work together rather than compete against one another, and one development is from an Indianapolis-based developer that keenly identified Cedar Rapids residential needs through data crunching.

“It’s an important site and a large site,” Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said in a news report. “It speaks well for the community that we have two proposals and the proposals seem to include many of the elements our community has been talking about. There’s a lot to work with.”

The $63.2 million development concept from Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties includes 361 residential and town home units, a saltwater pool, a public plaza and a beer garden.

It’s clear, however, that the local developers’ proposal is more compelling and would make for a signature community development project that should spur additional investment in the area. Cedar Rapids’ New Bohemia District and Iowa City’s Riverfront Crossing come to mind as examples of similar vibrant redevelopment areas.

The $80 to $100 million development called Kingston Landing calls for a Big Grove Brewery, 12-to-14 screen movie theater, a public staking rink, 105 apartment and condo units and a Spare Time family fun center with an arcade, bowling and video walls.

The Kingston Landing project is being development by some of the region’s most successful businesspeople and developers. They include Joe Ahmann and Chad Pelley of Ahmann Companies, Nate Kaeding of Build to Suit, Matt Swift of Big Grove Brewery, David Sorg of OPN Architects, Southgate Companies and Hall and Hall Engineers.

We were previously disappointed that the city seemed to be hanging a big part of its economic development strategy on a landing casino. Fortunately, that has changed.

The Kingston Landing project is exactly the type of homegrown economic development initiative that will spur more development and excitement in Cedar Rapids and the entire region.

Editor’s Note:  Nate Kaeding is a monthly correspondent and podcaster for the CBJ.

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