New city center plans unveiled for Hiawatha

The first phase of Hiawatha Midtown, an eight-story mixed-use tower with ground floor commercial and apartments and condos above. IMAGE SIDE BY SIDE DEVELOPMENT


By Dave DeWitte

Cedar Rapids has its downtown, Marion has its Uptown, and Hiawatha will soon have Hiawatha Midtown, a rough­ly $72 million redevelopment project that will provide a new city center with retail, housing and office space.

The Hiawatha City Council on March 6 approved the $1.72 million sale of just over 12 acres of city-owned land to the Keith Billick-led Side by Side Development LLC. Side by Side and a sister company are planning a four-phase, five-year project that will begin next fall with an eight-story mixed-use tower at the intersection of Center Point Road and Emmons Street.

That building is expected to be under construction in October and complete within two years. In addition to ground floor retail/commercial, it will have apartments on the middle floors and condos on the highest floors. When the four phases are complete, the project will in­clude 66 senior living units, 10 live/work units, 18 con­dos, 203 apartments, 58 townhomes and three patio homes, in addition to a mix of office and retail.

Mr. Billick said the development will target “missing middle” housing, defined as both affordable and within walking or cycling distance of work for most households, and connected to the regional trail system. The live/work units — those with residential units above ground floor shops or offices — will be among the first in the state, Mr. Billick said, and will help more small businesses survive because the owners will have only one mortgage pay­ment to make.

The project, previously dubbed Village Center, is the result of more than 15 years of planning and redevelop­ment efforts that included acquiring a declining mobile home park and surrounding businesses, and building new street, sidewalk and utility infrastructure in the area. Mr. Billick said the project was rebranded to give Hiawatha’s new city center its own identity in the metro, standing alongside downtown Cedar Rapids and Uptown Marion.

“The idea is it’s a connected community,” he said. The retail building designs will be deliberately flexible to accommodate the shifting needs of the industry. The residential offerings will target the “creative class” or “anyone who makes a living with their minds,” Mr. Bil­lick explained.

Veteran City Council Member Dick Olson and other leaders were clearly excited at the milestone the project had reached as they unanimously cast their votes in favor of the land sale. Nobody spoke on the sale at a public hearing except Mr. Billick.

“To me, it’s a watershed moment,” Mr. Olson said. “Nothing in Hiawatha will ever be the same.”

Mayor Bill Bennett said Hiawatha is “a community that was founded as a bedroom community, and with this project it’s going to have a lot of beds.”

Hiawatha’s housing development has not kept up with its business growth, Mr. Billick noted. It is now a “labor importer,” without enough housing for all the people who work in the city. About 400 people will be able to live in the development when completed, Mr. Billick told the CBJ.

The project will benefit from city tax incentives, includ­ing tax abatement benefits that will be flowed through to home buyers. Mr. Billick said design work and some zon­ing changes are among the remaining hurdles for the proj­ect. He said the construction schedule for future phases will be adjusted to avoid saturating the market, and project partners, some of which could take on various portions of the development, will be announced at a later date.