Local developers see overhauled plans for $ 71 million entertainment center as ‘recipe’ for success

Renderings of a $ 71 million mixed-use development project including a Big Grove Brewery, Pickle Palace Bar and Grill with recreation space and other uses by local developers under 1st and 1st West LLC. (Courtesy of the City of Cedar Rapids)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Local developers behind a $ 71 million transformation of long-vacant urban land on Tuesday touted a collaboration with the city that will result in a ‘destination’ location that includes a Big Grove brewery, an open-air recreation space. air and potentially a hotel and entertainment center.

Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously approved a term sheet outlining the scope of the project from Kingston Landing to First Street and First Avenue W – a blank slate to be transformed into a hub of activities connecting downtown, the village of Kingston and possibly the recreational facilities at Cedar River. Two of the nine council members were absent for the vote.

Nate Kaeding, director of business development for Build to Suit and one of the developers who formed 1st and 1st LLC to continue this project, said the team was keen that the city was looking for a mixed-use development that would be a success. quality of life as well as a regional attraction.

“We really see this as a great public-private partnership, and with the importance and importance of this property, we don’t take it lightly, and we’ve worked a lot and thought about what’s best for this property. property. ”Kaeding said.

Since the project was first considered by council in 2019, and even since elected officials gave the green light to municipal staff to negotiate a terms sheet in June 2020, the site plans have undergone changes of design.

Plans now call for an approximately 1.25 acre “central park” element to improve green space use and create a pedestrian zone. Parking would also be done in a single ramp, a separate city project for an estimated $ 15-20 million.

Acting Director of Economic Development Caleb Mason said the city plans to donate a portion of its prize as part of the state’s competitive district reinvestment program for these items. In June, the Iowa Economic Development Authority tentatively awarded Cedar Rapids $ 9 million out of the city’s initial request of $ 39.5 million, though final rewards will be decided next year.

When the city submits the final application, Mason said he expects growth based on the revised plan with a denser Kingston Landing project and more retail space.

Despite the smaller-than-expected interim price, developer Joe Ahmann, owner of Hiawatha-based Ahmann Design, told The Gazette the group is confident based on the projected revenue from the development.

“We feel pretty strong with our project and the funds that (the city has) allocated, that hopefully the city can direct them for public use with the development around Kingston Landing,” Ahmann said.

Overall, the buildings in this development will have improved connectivity with the plaza, and the rooftops will become an active space with options for eating, drinking and entertaining – with views of downtown and the Cedar River. City officials and developers are hoping that this aesthetic, and the prominent “Kingston Landing” signs atop some buildings, will attract the attention of tourists driving on Interstate 380.

The city will provide a 20-year refund of 85 percent of the tax increases generated for each respective building. A final development agreement will be presented to council this fall.

Construction will be phased, starting in 2022 with the Big Grove Brewery and a Grill Bar called Pickle Palace with space for pickleball as well as other outdoor games and events.

“They would start tomorrow if we were ready,” Ahmann said of the Pickle Palace squad, “so they are eager to get the project off the ground because it is quite important.”

The second phase would largely provide mixed-use spaces and residential units, as well as a potential “boutique” hotel of around 100 rooms.

The third and final phase, scheduled for completion in December 2030, would bring in a proposed entertainment center that could be converted into a mixed-use space, office or hotel, and additional mixed-use buildings.

Big Grove co-founder and CEO Matt Swift said one of the coolest parts of the project is that everything is connected.

“The more our customers, our guests interact with the surrounding environments and surrounding tenants, I think this will be a big deal – not just at Kingston Landing, but all around Kingston Landing too, so I think this is a recipe for a lot of success, ”Swift said.

The site remained empty for a long time, as it was once intended to be occupied by a casino. After state regulators in 2014 and 2017 quashed the casino proposals, Cedar Rapids sought other uses for the land.

Council member Ann Poe recalled returning to Cedar Rapids from Council Bluffs with several city officials after the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted against granting a gambling license to the city .

The group went around the site, Poe recalls, and she said, “Wait, we’ll put something great on this site. It might not be a casino, but it will be great. This has always been our hope and our expectation.

Kingston Landing’s revamped plans “have exceeded expectations” thanks to a team effort and a focus on creating places, said Poe, chairman of the board’s development committee.

Council member Dale Todd said, “People are moving to town now, and they are moving to town because of projects like this. He cited data from the 2020 census, which shows Cedar Rapids has grown its population by 9% over the past decade, to an additional 11,384 residents.

If it depended on board member Marty Hoeger, the developers could start tomorrow, he said.

“I think this is a real tribute to two high quality developers who have probably competed on different projects over the years, who saw the vision of this corner and decided to collaborate rather than compete against each other, because it’s a better project for you to collaborate together, ”Hoeger said.

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