Software Company Looks to Build New Offices in New Bohemia

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Only a decade or so ago, the city's now-buzzing New Bohemia arts and entertainment district along Third Street SE was mostly a forlorn industrial brownfield area within eyeshot of the city's downtown.

This week, City Hall unveiled a new piece of good news for the district: A local, 13-year-old, 75-employee, health care software and services company has asked to buy the now-city-owned, 3.6-acre vacant lot that once housed the Iowa Steel plant at 415 12th Ave. SE.

The company, Geonetric Inc., now leases office space at 4211 Glass Rd. NE, but Eric Engelmann, company president/CEO, told the City Council's Development Committee this week that he "fell in love" with the New Bohemia district and so wants to build a new office building and move his company there.

"I think it's got a lot of charm, sort of a free spirit, creative, innovative kind of environment, and I think that matches us really well," Engelmann said on Thursday of New Bohemia.

In response, the council committee this week recommended that the full City Council move ahead to seek competitive proposals for the former Iowa Steel site, which is required when the city disposes of city-owned property. Proposals will be due on March 8, under the city's proposed timeline.

Engelmann on Thursday said it's possible the growing company could double its work force from its current 75 employees in five years.

The Iowa Steel site is one of five abandoned or underused industrial sites known as "brownfields" that the city has purchased in New Bohemia for redevelopment with the help of federal and private funds in the last 12 years. Nearly all the original buildings on the properties have been demolished.

As for the Iowa Steel site, the city acquired it in 2000 as part of a three-way deal between the city, Terex Cedarapids Inc., which owned the site, and nearby St. Wenceslaus Church, 1224 Fifth St. SE.

The company donated the property to the church and the church, in turn, gave it to the city. In exchange, the city paid the state of Iowa $450,000 for a portion of a state loan that Terex Cedarapids Inc. had obtained but needed to pay back because it had failed to meet the loan's job-creation requirements. The city also made a commitment to the church to one day extend 14th Avenue SE to the church's location on Fifth Street SE.

Subsequent to the purchase, the city obtained federal brownfield money to demolish the Iowa Steel buildings and to conduct an environmental assessment and cleanup of the site. The site is now ready for redevelopment, the city's Butterfield told the City Council committee this week.

Back in May 2003, city officials held an event at the former Iowa Steel site at which time they ripped down a chain-link fence around the property to signal that it was open for redevelopment. It has sat empty, waiting for someone like Engelmann to express an interest.
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