UFG’s gift to Cedar Rapids

CBJ Editorial

UFG Insurance is one of the most philanthropic companies in the Corridor. The publicly traded insurer donates a significant sum of money to various nonprofits each year in Cedar Rapids and across the region, but its remodeling of the American Building in downtown Cedar Rapids might be its most significant and symbolic gift to date.

UFG made this sizable investment, estimated to be more than the $28 million reported by various news sources, in remodeling the 105-year old, terra cotta clad building on First Avenue, as well as constructing a new, adjacent, 10-story glass- and stone-faced building, which provides a compelling contrast.

“We wanted to respect the history of the American Building, while making it functional and usable for UFG,” said Al Buck, the project architect for Solum Lang Architects of Cedar Rapids, in a news report.

The American Building was for a short time the tallest building in downtown Cedar Rapids. Its anchor tenant was American Trust & Savings Bank, one of the great pre-Depression banks of the city, which closed in 1933.

UFG could have easily found a less expensive way to create the same amount of office space, even in the downtown area, but made an important statement by giving new life to one of the city’s architecturally important buildings. That has given historian Mark Stoffer Hunter and others in the city’s historic preservation and interpretation community reason to celebrate.

“This is a fantastic blending of the old and new. It’s a 21st-century solution showing what can be done in downtown Cedar Rapids,” said Mr. Stoffer Hunter.

UFG’s investment reminds us of the considerable investment that MidWestOne made just a few years ago with the remodeling of the historic Iowa State Bank and Trust Building in downtown Iowa City, now known as the MidWestOne Building, as well as its new One Place at Riverfront Crossings.

There are, of course, a myriad of factors in determining whether to tear down and build a new building or remodel an existing one; not to mention doing it in an area that was significantly impacted by the flood of 2008.

UFG’s investment in this remodel and new building gives both a nod toward its nearly 75-year history in Cedar Rapids and a dedication to the future of downtown Cedar Rapids, even with complete flood protection years away from completion.

“I believe the downtown is coming back into favor. There are more things to do here at night, and more places to eat out. I think our employees enjoy coming downtown,” said UFG President and CEO Randy Ramlo. “A lot of our employees are getting interested in living downtown.”

UFG has approximately 700 employees based in downtown Cedar Rapids. With the American Building and its cluster of nearby UFG buildings and parking garage, the company now owns one and a quarter blocks of the downtown area.

We congratulate UFG on this project and its continued commitment to downtown Cedar Rapids.   •