Smulekoff’s leaving downtown Cedar Rapids at end of December

By Chelsea Keenan, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — A downtown Cedar Rapids retail landmark will close its doors at the end of the year.

Rita Rasmussen, real estate service manager for the city of Cedar Rapid’s Public Works Department, said the city will acquire Smulekoff’s Furniture, 97 Third Ave. SE, on the last business day of December 2014.

The city will pay $4.7 million for the five-story, 100,416-square-foot building and the 40,068 square feet of land it sits on. The deal does not include the downtown warehouse at 411 Sixth Ave. SE.

The city will purchase the furniture store through its Voluntary Property Acquisition process, which are federal funds used to buy properties destroyed by the 2008 flood.

While the city closed most of its buyout offers on June 30, Sandi Fowler, Cedar Rapids assistant city manager, said the Smulekoff’s deal was extended because the store appealed the city’s original valuation and had the store reappraised.

In 2014, the City Assessor’s Office assessed the building at $2.398 million.

Fowler said the Smuelkoff’s property is the last of 1,355 commercial and residential buildings the city offered to buyout. The majority of these properties were residential, with 168 commercial/industrial properties, according to the city.

As for Smulekoff’s plans — relocation or closure — Fowler said the city is in the dark.

The city had worked with the company, she said, to keep it in Cedar Rapids if it planned to relocate. But talks have since fizzled out with no conclusion, she said.

Rumors have floated that the store would relocate to the former Von Maur space at Westdale Mall, but as of Monday morning Lisa Rowe, the mall’s general manager, said no contract has been signed.

Smulekoff’s had no comment in regard to the buyout or its future plans, according Theresa Blair, Smulekoff’s communications manager.

Relocations

The furniture store has been part of the downtown fabric since 1889 when Henry Smulekoff opened a store on May’s Island.

It later moved to Third Avenue SW in 1908, and then relocated to its current location in 1942. Smulekoff’s also dealt with flood damage in 2008, which forced the business to operate out of its warehouse for two months before it could return to its downtown location.

Part of Smulekoff’s desire to leave downtown stems from flood-protection plans.

In 2011, Anne Lipsky, the furniture company’s president, wrote a letter to the city, saying she had concerns over the Army Corps of Engineers flood protection plans, which call for a flood wall next to the store. This would block its delivery dock, she wrote.

While the store’s future may not be immediately known, some already have an idea of what will become of the building.

Scott Olson, a city council member and commercial Realtor, said the building will be prime property to redevelop into mixed-use space, with retail and office and residential space.

Olson said he believed several local and regional developers will be interested in the property.

He said there has been strong demand for housing and retail downtown, but developers have had somewhat limited options.

“One issue we’ve had when recruiting developers in the past is we don’t have enough older, larger buildings” to redevelop, he said.

The Smulekoff’s building will certainly have the size, he said.

“It’s a sad day for the history of Cedar Rapids. We’re losing a longtime family owned business that will be missed,” Olson said. “But the potential redevelopment of the building will have a great impact on the future of downtown.”

Reporter Rick Smith contributed to this article.

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