Construction to Start Soon in NewBo District

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By Rachel Begle

CEDAR RAPIDS — Two new buildings — a three-story one and a four-story one — are in the offing for 2014 as developers compete to obtain vacant city-owned lots on which to build in the spunky heart of New Bohemia, the city’s emerging arts and entertainment district along Third Street SE.

Last night, the City Council voted to move ahead on the sale of the old Iowa Steel plant site, now city-owned, in the 400 block of 12th Avenue SE to provide a new home for Geonetric Inc., a growing local health care software and services company.

Joe Ahmann, the developer of the Geonetric building project, says the top two floors of the proposed three-story brick building will house Geonetric with the first floor to be used for the company’s future growth and, for now, for other retail and office tenants.

The proposed project for the Iowa Steel site, which a City Hall evaluation team picked over a competing plan submitted by Martin Gardner Architecture of Marion, is set for construction to start by July 1 and to be complete by early 2014, Ahmann said.

Prior to the finalization of a sale, the City Council directed the city manager to hammer out a development agreement with Eric Engelmann, Geonetric’s president/CEO, an agreement which will set out what Geonetric will invest and what jobs it will create and what the city will invest in the project.

In November, Engelmann said he wanted to move his growing, 70-employee firm from leased space in northeast Cedar Rapids to New Bohemia because he said it has "a lot of charm and sort of a free spirit … that matches us really well."

Last night, council members were effusive in their praise of Engelmann and his move to New Bohemia.

"Revitalization begins with bodies," council member Pat Shey said. He wondered how many of Geonetric’s employees might live nearby. He noted that the city has invested in the redevelopment of New Bohemia, and now private-sector investment is following, Shey said.

Council member Kris Gulick said local entrepreneurs are starting to wonder if they might miss out on a chance to locate in New Bohemia.
"This area is hot," Gulick said.

At the same time at another New Bohemia site, Ahmann and a second developer, Allen Lerch, have presented City Hall with competing proposals to build a four-story building at 1020 and 1028 Third St. SE on the site of the former Brosh Funeral Chapel.

Ahmann’s proposal calls for a building with a first-floor of retail shops, a second floor of offices and two top floors of market-rate condominiums.

However, Jennifer Pratt, a planner in the city’s Community Development Department, said on Monday that a City Hall evaluation team has picked Lerch’s proposal, called New Bohemia Station, over the Ahmann proposal.

Lerch’s proposal calls for retail shops on the first floor, a 14-room extended-stay hotel and ballroom/event hall on the second floor and two top floors of market-rate loft residential units. The plan also calls for a 225-seat "underground cinema."

Lerch on Monday said his proposed $6.5-million project, which has been designed by OPN Architects Inc., will feature pillars to allow removable flood walls to be inserted at the time of a flood to protect the building.

He said the 14-room hotel with event hall will satisfy a local unmet need for weddings and other events. Construction, he added, is expected to start in the summer or fall and take 12 to 14 months to complete if the project is given the go ahead by the City Council.

In December, Ahmann won City Council backing in the form of a property-tax break for his $34-million proposal to build an upscale office park with a mix of retail and restaurants near Edgewood Road NE and Blairs Ferry Road NE.

Most recently, Lerch was the development manager of a 22-unit apartment complex with first-floor commercial space called The Vlllages at Sixth Street and 12th Avenue SE. The project endured a fire during construction, but was completed and opened last June. The residential units are all-but filled and the commercial space soon will be, Lerch said.

Also on Tuesday, the City Council was slated to give the go-ahead for the city manager to negotiate development agreements to save three flood-damaged houses in New Bohemia that had been slated for demolition.

Tom and Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, plan to renovate the house at 1301 Third St. SE, turning the first floor into a retail salvage store and the second floor into a residential unit; New Leaf Historic Properties plans to renovate the house at 213 13th Ave. SE for use as a single-family home; and Acme Electric wants to move and renovate the house at 1018 Second St. SE as part of a larger project to build row house condominiums and live/work buildings on city-owned lots in New Bohemia.

No one submitted proposals to save flood-damaged homes at 1226 First St. SE and 1216 Second St. SE or a flood-damaged commercial building at 1207 Second St. SE, all in New Bohemia, city officials reported.

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