Work on Veterans Memorial Building Nearly Finished
By Dave Franzman, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - After two years of reconstruction and $20-million dollars in costs, the former city hall in downtown Cedar Rapids is within a month of completion.
But since city hall and all the city offices relocated to a nearby building, the question becomes who will move in to a completely refurbished Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island?
The executive director of the Veterans Memorial Commission says he’s beginning to shift efforts now from the recovery phase of the flood-damaged structure to marketing the reopened space to potential users and tenants.
Mike Jager said only about 20 percent of the space in the Veterans Memorial Building now is either leased or spoken for. And so far, the greatest interest is not for the potential office space, but use of the auditorium for special events.
"There is a high level of interest in rentals for one time events as well as some reoccurring groups and we're working on that. We're even exploring the possibility of naming rights and that should add to the publicity and marketing aspects," Jager said.
The large auditorium with stage on the main floor is available to use for meetings, conventions, concerts and even some sporting events. Jager said the first events should begin sometime in April although he couldn’t disclose users because all the contracts aren’t signed yet.
There are also smaller spaces such as a fourth floor ballroom that have drawn interest as wedding reception sites and for similar party-type events.
But Jager said the building, supported by a special property tax levy, will be returning to more of its original mission when first constructed in the 1920's. That was providing space for veterans groups with offices for city government almost an afterthought.
The Iowa Veterans Welcome Center is one group eagerly awaiting the final touches on construction. The welcome center is run by volunteers and began operation only last summer in some donated space on 1st Avenue N.W. Volunteers say their goal is to provide a space to veterans to hang out, have some fun and perhaps get some peer counseling or use computers for job searches.
Roger Wiest, one of the volunteer organizers, said "when we started here we had no idea we'd be moving up there--especially this soon. But yeah, we've been working on it for some time."
The space for the group on the mezzanine level of the Veterans Memorial Building is about double what they have available now. Plus the group, along with other veterans organizations, will be able to use common space such as a large kitchen on the basement level of the building. The center plans to move in February 3rd.
Jager said other organizations will set up fitness equipment, health offices and other facilities to serve veterans. But the long term success of the reconstruction also depends on drawing tenants from the business or nonprofit community as well as special event users.
He said one medical and legal advocacy group from Dubuque leased office space six months ago while construction was in full swing. But now that workers will soon depart, he said the future uses of the Veterans Memorial Building should become more apparent as prospective tenants envision the possibilities.
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