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You may be surprised to learn that Marion is now the 13th largest city by population in the state of Iowa. Marion surpassed Cedar Falls in the most recent state population reports from the 2021 Population Estimates Program and 2020 American Community Survey, and now comprises an estimated 42,889 residents, up 63% from 2000. But that new 13th place ranking has been far from unlucky for Marion, which is now emerging from the shadow of Cedar Rapids, its larger neighbor to the west, and by many measures, may have shed its longstanding moniker as a Cedar Rapids suburb. After decades of planning, several significant developments are coming to fruition. And three separate projects in Uptown Marion – the first Broad and Main building, the new Marion Public Library and the streetscape project – are nearing completion at virtually the same time, converging to boost the city’s momentum at a critical point in its history. Marion City Manager Ryan Waller, a relative newcomer who started in November 2021, said the city’s progressive mantra is one of the main things that drew him to the community from his previous role as city manager in Indianola. “I've asked everybody that I've met, ‘Hey, can I get three to five names of folks that I should go out and meet,’ and every time I meet new people, they're talking about (all the things) going on in Marion,” Mr. Waller said. “So it's exciting to come into a community at this point in the phase.” Here’s how some of the significant projects are nearing the finish line.
Broad and Main projectThe first building in the $25 million-plus Broad and Main project, an infill redevelopment plan announced in January 2021 at the former site of the Marion Square Plaza strip mall, is nearing completion. Community development leaders toured Broad and Main on Seventh, 1101 Seventh Ave., as part of a development tour hosted by the Marion Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) Sept. 13. The $13 million, three-story building features eight commercial spaces on the first floor and 34 residential market-rate apartments on the second and third floors. Kayla Toale, vice president of properties for Eagle View Partners of Cedar Falls, the project’s developer, said the building is already approximately 60% leased. A portion of the building will also serve as MEDCO’s new home, President Nick Glew said. “We're in the process of building out a second-floor suite that is not just our office space,” he said. “It's really being built to be a space for (members) to leverage as well.” The office will include a classroom, open coworking spaces, two patios overlooking the Uptown Plaza, office spaces and a boardroom. “We’re really just getting it all laid out,” Mr. Glew said. “The classroom space will easily seat up to 30 people, probably more when it's not set up in rows of tables. All of these spaces will be used by our business partners.” The main floor includes a leasing office with an on-site property manager and a lobby with a mailroom, coffee service, soft seating and other amenities. Four of the eight commercial spaces are already leased, but Ms. Toale said the largest space, designed for an anchor food and beverage tenant, hasn’t yet been claimed. “We're hoping for some sort of brewery or tap house concept,” she said. “There’s obviously a great plaza view here. They can do a cafe-style concept on the sidewalk, and we’re open to expanding to the south to build a beer garden or something like that.” Site work has already begun on the project’s second phase, Broad and Main on Sixth, a $19 million, residential-only building just to the south of the Seventh Avenue facility. Broad and Main on Sixth will offer luxury one-bedroom, two-bedroom and luxury two-bedroom units and offer a number of shared amenities, including a fitness center, rec room and shared patio, as well as underground parking. It’s expected to open in late 2023 or early 2024, Ms. Toale said. The overall project will be known as the Broad and Main neighborhood and serve as a key step in bringing more residential space to the Uptown Marion district. The site is historically significant in that it was the original location of the train depot at “the corner of Broad and Meridian streets” in the late 1800s. “We’ve seen a lot of growth and vibrancy in the Uptown District over the last five years, and this project (will) keep that momentum going,” Uptown Marion Main Street Director Brooke Prouty said. “Housing is a key piece in creating a vibrant district and attracting people to our historic commercial core.”
Marion Central Corridor and streetscape projectAfter more than a decade of planning and more than a year of intensive construction, the $6.9 million Uptown Marion streetscape project is moving into its final phase. Assistant City Engineer Jacob Hahn said he expects final paving operations to begin by the end of September, with the project “wrapping up with substantial completion” by the end of October. About $5.8 million of the project’s contract has been spent to date, he said. Local-option sales tax dollars and bonding through the city’s capital improvement program are funding the project, which includes complete reconstruction of Seventh Avenue and adjacent side streets between Eighth and 12th streets and Sixth and Eighth avenues in the heart of the central business district. It also includes a reconstructed north plaza on 11th Street that stretches from the Uptown Artway south across Seventh Avenue. A recently completed “festival street” along Seventh Avenue between 10th and 12th streets features a curbless design to make it more accessible to patrons. “There is a brick sidewalk to delineate where the parking ends and the sidewalk begins, and you’ll see trees and benches to be able to decipher that,” Ms. Prouty said. “It will be a street that’s meant to be closed down for festivals, which will help to have access to some of those park events.” The reconstruction not only includes a new road surface, but also new storm sewer, sanitary sewer, water main/services into existing buildings, sidewalks (including working with businesses and building owners to provide ADA accessible entrances) and underground utilities. The streetscape project is part of the Uptown Marion Master Plan, which also incorporates the next phase of uptown redevelopment, the Central Plaza plan, which will incorporate 11th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues and the eastern triangle of City Square Park. Amenities proposed in the plan include an artistic Peace Tree, flexible outdoor seating, water features, play structure, ice trail, event stage and space for festival and market tents. The Depot may also see some upgrades in the form of a potential warming house during the winter months to complement the ice trail, restrooms and mechanical rooms for the various water features. Planning is underway for the final design of the Central Plaza. The city of Marion and the Central Plaza Steering Committee also sought input from residents on various aspects of the project, which was recently awarded $3 million in funding through the state’s Destination Iowa program. Feedback from the survey, which was completed at the end of August, will be considered by the Plaza Steering Committee and city council before design documents are finalized and construction documents are prepared. Officials hope the project will begin construction in 2023, after a bidding process this winter.
Marion Public LibraryThe new, $18 million Marion Public Library, also in Uptown Marion, is close to being open to the public, and staff is already working in the building. Library Director Bill Carroll, who came to Marion in July 2021, noted that the new library was originally projected to open in April 2022, then was postponed to July. It is now set to open on or before Nov. 15. A combination of several factors, including supply chain issues and contractor workforce shortages, combined to snarl the facility’s opening plans. “I'm very eager to see patrons enjoying all the amenities that we're going to have to offer them in this building," Mr. Carroll said. Once fully open, Mr. Carroll said he expects the community will be amazed by the amenities offered in the two-story, 52,000-square-foot facility in the 1100 block of Sixth Avenue, about double the size of the former library facility just to the west, which sustained extensive damage in the August 2020 derecho and never reopened. Plans for that former library building remain uncertain, Mr. Carroll said. One of the major features of the new building is the addition of several meeting spaces, including a large community room, a teen-focused area and dozens of smaller conference rooms. That need for meeting space was one of the main recommendations to emerge from a library master plan feasibility study released in 2019. “One of the components of the feasibility study was soliciting feedback from community members on what they would like to see in a new library building, if one were to be built,” Mr. Carroll said. “The number one thing that they were looking for was additional space.” Several other resources will also be included in the new facility, from a commercial-grade teaching kitchen, a 3-D printer and laser etcher, an industrial quilting sewing machine, a recording studio and associated green room for multimedia production, computer labs with full software suites for makers and Microsoft Office users, a full interactive children’s play and learning area, and in-library laptop computer checkouts. Other than minimal charges for materials, all the resources will be available for patron use during library hours, Mr. Carroll said. Of course, traditional library materials, including printed materials and audiovisual resources, will continue to be available as well, but they’re a part of a much larger purpose modern libraries are expected to serve. “We look at ourselves as more than just the public library,” Mr. Carroll said. “We look at ourselves as the community center for Marion residents.” Funding for the new library comes from a variety of public and private sources, including a capital campaign with local residents, local-option sales tax funds, tax-increment financing, municipal bonding and insurance proceeds from damage to the former library. Until the new library is ready, the library continues to operate from its temporary uptown location at 1064 Seventh Ave.
Partnerships key to successMarion leaders say while the development surge is now emerging publicly, it’s part of a decades-long planning process and partnerships between city and economic development leaders. Marion Chamber of Commerce President Jill Ackerman pointed out the city’s collaboration with local residents through visioning processes such as Imagine8 and ImagiNEXT, which have kept community members involved in the development process. “Our residents are really engaged in our community,” she said. “We've had awesome elected officials and leaders within the city of Marion that listen to what residents want, and they take their input seriously.” Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly, a longtime advocate of public-private partnerships for economic growth, also stressed that recent developments are the result of decades of effort and collaboration behind the scenes. “This is definitely an exciting time in the history of Marion. Uptown in particular is quickly transforming into a vibrant urban center and a regional destination for people to live, shop, dine and experience community,” he said. “This is not happening by chance, but is the result of many years of dreaming, planning and promoting a vision that helps to make Marion and the region more attractive for people and businesses.”
Other Marion developmentsThere’s been plenty of other developments around Marion in recent months and years, including:
- The new $10.3 million Marion Fire Station at 100 Irish Drive, the city’s third fire station, placed into service in August 2021, and the planned future addition of a fourth station somewhere in the eastern portion of Marion;
- The new $19.5 million Marion YMCA at 3740 Irish Drive, which opened in January 2021;
- The $25 million, 110-unit Green Park Apartment Living project where three buildings are planned on the old Marion YMCA site, 3100 10th Ave.;
- The $11.5 million, 93-unit building at 640 Marion Blvd., the former Hames Homes site, that broke ground in April;
- The redevelopment of the former Marion Methodist Episcopal Church, saved from the wrecking ball through local government and developer visioning efforts;
- A new Marion aquatic center, now in initial planning stages;
- Working with other local jurisdictions, including Hiawatha, Robins and Cedar Rapids, on the Tower Terrace Road project that will eventually include a new Interstate 380 interchange;
- Ongoing development of the Marion Enterprise Center on the city’s eastern edge, including a new headquarters for developer Chad Pelley’s Twenty40 Building Concepts and new speculative buildings totaling nearly 120,000 square feet being developed by DMFA LLC;
- The Marion Aircom Park, an 84-acre commercial and industrial development near the Marion Airport designed to accommodate smaller-scale ventures of three to four acres each, with potential for future development of another 120 acres; and
- Ongoing development of the mixed-use East Town Crossing area, formerly known as the Squaw Creek Crossing at the intersection of Highways 13 and 151 in Marion, where a second location for the Daisy’s Garage restaurant and a new Scooter’s Coffee site are now under construction. In addition, construction of a 93-unit Holiday Inn Express is now set to begin in the spring of 2023, joining recent housing projects and commercial developments such as Kwik Star, Dupaco Credit Union, Pancheros, Jersey Mike’s Subs and Pizza Ranch.