Cedar Rapids Development Will Seek Upscale Retailers

By George Ford, Reporter

An architect's rendering shows the entry boulevard leading to The Fountains, a proposed 19.3-acre office and upscale retail development at Blairs Ferry and Edgewood roads NE. Ahmann Properties is acquiring the land from Transamerica and hopes to welcome the first retail tenants in June 2013. (Fusion Architects Inc.)

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By Ellen Kurt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The developer of a 19-acre retail and office complex in northeast Cedar Rapids is planning to attract upscale retailers to the community.

Joe Ahmann of Ahmann Properties in Hiawatha said The Fountains will be constructed at Blairs Ferry and Edgewood Roads on land that will be purchased from Transamerica Life Insurance Co., formerly Life Investors Insurance Co.

"We are planning about 45,000 square feet of retail space and roughly 200,000 square feet of office space," Ahmann said. "That can flip around, depending on our tenants' use.

"I want to bring something to the community that's a little more upscale. We will have a pond with a fountain and lights as well as a boulevard entry that will lead to a roundabout, where we will create a really cool public space with benches.

"It will provide an opportunity for office users to have an outdoor lunch, read a book or just enjoy looking at the fountain. We want that area to create its own atmosphere, which we think will be a real perk for office tenants."

While not naming any potential retail tenants, Ahmann said he is seeking stores of the same "caliber" as Chico's, J. Jill, Ann Taylor and Coldwater Creek.

"There will be an opportunity for end-cap restaurants to have outdoor seating overlooking the pond," Ahmann said. "We have preplanned everything we want to go in there to have a certain level of quality that all ties together."

Dennis Jordan, vice president of economic development with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said development of upscale lifestyle centers are important when new employers are considering the community.

"One of the common questions I get from corporate headquarters is what are we doing to continue to attract more restaurant and retail opportunities to the community," Jordan said. "That's a perceived challenge that we have for the area.

"I fully support what Ahmann Properties is doing and I feel there is a need for it."

Ahmann is requesting modification of an ordinance when the land was rezoned in 1995 for Life Investors Insurance. It would remove a restriction limiting the hours of operation for commercial tenants along the east side of the property to no later than 10 p.m.

The Cedar Rapids City Council on Sept. 25 approved the first reading of an ordinance modifying the 1995 ordinance. It is expected to receive final approval at the council's Oct. 9 meeting.

Ahmann said the approaching construction of the Highway 100 extension is expected to bring shoppers and office tenants to The Fountains. He anticipates completing the purchase of the land in the near future, pending city approval of building plans.

"If winter weather holds off, we would like to do some infrastructure and grading work yet this fall," he said. "If we have a winter like last winter, we would put in foundations for the two retail buildings by the pond.

"As you drive in from Edgewood Road past McDonald's, that will provide a very clear view of the project."

Ahmann said initial talks with tenants have targeted having stores open in June 2013. The weather will determine if completion is delayed to the fall of 2013, he added.

Ahmann, who launched Ahmann Design in Hiawatha in 1990, is the successful developer of Boyson Square on Boyson Road in Hiawatha. He also is developing an office building under construction at 1815 First Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids as well as a medical building planned for the corner of First Avenue and 28th Street Drive SE.

"We will have the 1815 First Ave. SE building ready for tenants by the end of this year," Ahmann said. "We plan to allow Habitat for Humanity to salvage anything from the homes and business on the property at First Avenue and 28th Street Drive SE.

"We would begin demolition either late this year or early next year. We really do not have a construction schedule for that building, which is being developed by Ahmann Properties."

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