NewBo City Market eyes $3 million expansion project

NewBo City Market

A $3 million expansion project is in the works for the NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids – a project set to expand the market’s vendor space to the entire first floor, add a second-floor mezzanine above the market floor for seating and event space, and incorporate a farm-to-table grocery space to help address the neighborhood’s status as a “food desert.”

NewBo City Market Executive Director Julie Parisi said the plan has been in the works for more than a year, and would represent the first significant expansion in the market’s history.

She said since the NewBo City Market opened in October 2012, leaders have been “thinking ahead” about growing to meet the community’s needs, and that in the wake of the 2008 flood, the market has been at the center of the New Bohemia neighborhood’s growth.

“The market has been a real catalyst in terms of revitalizing the neighborhood, and we can see that demonstrated by all the buildings that have gone up around us, all the new businesses that have come here and the development that’s going on,” Ms. Parisi said. “We’re at a point now where we need to really meet the needs of the community that’s residing right around us.”

The nonprofit business incubator, located at 1100 3rd St SE, Cedar Rapids, recently applied for a $30,000 grant from the Linn County Economic Development Fund. The Linn County Board of Supervisors declined to approve the request Wednesday in favor of other project applicants.

However, the project has already secured more than $1.2 million in funding through grants from the Hall-Perrine Foundation, the Aegon Transamerica Foundation and the Wellmark Foundation, as well as some private contributions, Ms. Parisi said.

The organization has also launched a capital campaign for individual donations called “Next Level Local.”

One key aspect of the proposal is opening the entire first floor of the market as vendor space. Currently, the market is only open four days a week, from Thursday through Sunday, but feedback from the community and other stakeholders has indicated a desire to expand the market’s hours of operation, Ms. Parisi said.

“We have so many small businesses and entrepreneurs that we work with,” Ms. Parisi said, “and having vendor spaces on just one half of the building right now is kind of limiting.”

As a result, plans call for the market’s current seating area to be converted to space for up to 10 new businesses who would be open seven days a week, Ms. Parisi said. A 3,000-square-foot mezzanine at the north end of the market, above the current seating area, would cover about a third of the market’s footprint, and would include a new seating area and and a performance space.

An elevator is planned to access the mezzanine area, she noted.

Current vendors will be given first access to the new vendor space, Ms. Parisi said, “if that’s their dream.”

“Really, what the expansion does is add a layer another layer of incubation there,” she said. “Someone coming in now, wanting to do four days a week, cannot operate seven days a week before they’re taking that leap and going outside of the market at seven days a week. This will give them a little longer support system here, while they’re still in the market.”

Another significant component of the plan is a permanent farm-to-table grocery space, dubbed the NewBo Market Basket, that would feature locally-produced goods and would likely be operated by an external entrepreneur, rather than by the NewBo Market’s staff.

“The NewBo City Market is an essential community resource that aligns with the Community Climate Action Plan,” according to a preliminary planning document. “With our farmers markets launching in summer 2022, we now also provide a low-emissions local source of fresh produce. This endeavor will be directly eliminating a community food desert and reducing carbon emissions by providing locally sourced food rather than consumers purchasing internationally shipped produce.”

Ms. Parisi noted that the closest grocery stores – the Save A Lot store at 1625 J St. SW and the Hy-Vee at 4035 Mount Vernon Rd. – are each more than a mile away from the NewBo Market.

“The plan is very focused on working with local food producers, farmers and other nonprofit organizations to help fill a grocery store with locally-produced food and finding someone to curate that,” she said.

According to the plan, “the market also hopes to build a fully-licensed production kitchen on the second-floor mezzanine, where farmers and shopkeepers can create value-added food products such as pasta, salsa, or pickles. This kitchen space will also be used in a variety of ticketed programs such as cooking classes where farmers can further their business growth through paid community classes.”

Leaders also hope to incorporate a built-in, subsidized child care facility for the market’s entrepreneurs. “The market currently offers child care stipends to shopkeepers,” the plan indicates. “With the building expansion, the market also hopes to build classroom spaces on the second-floor mezzanine that would allow the organization to offer summer camps for the children of those running a business inside the market.”

A mother’s room and coworking spaces are also included in the expansion plan.

City officials and NewBo business owners outside the market have been supportive of the plan so far, Ms. Parisi said. “Everyone that we’ve talked to immediately around us in the District is really supportive and excited to have an option to get local food or to visit the market more than four days a week,” she said.

Ms. Parisi said market officials are in the design phase for the project, meeting with architects to hash out proposals. “In an ideal world,” she said, construction on the expansion could begin as soon as January 2025.

“It’s an intentionally long process,” she said, “because we want to make sure we’re developing support systems for (current vendors) leading up to and during the time of construction,” she said. “We want to make sure that they succeed and stay throughout that period of time.”