City hopes new developments continue in Cedar Rapids College District

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A new mixed-use development officially opened on 1st Avenue north of downtown on Tuesday, one of the first new developments to go up in the Cedar Rapids College District.

Business owners of a new development at 1450 1st Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, October 21, 2019. (Randy Dircks/KCRG)

The College District runs along First Avenue from Coe Road NE to 20th Street and stretches west to the intersection of Elmhurst Drive and O Avenue.

Last year, the city established an action plan for the future of the College District. The community development director for the city, Jennifer Pratt, said this type of development is exactly what they were hoping to see.

“This set the tone for what we’re hoping happens in the College District and other older neighborhoods, where we see people coming forward and creating new projects, new ideas,” Steve Olson, a Cedar Rapids City Council member, said.

Olson spoke at the opening of Commons of First, located at 1450 1st Ave NE in Cedar Rapids. He said this type of development sets the tone for the future of the neighborhood.

“It takes a series of individuals to step forward and make things happen. And so it takes a catalyst and this project in my mind is serving as a catalyst for redevelopment of this area,” Olson said.

The former Kentucky Fried Chicken just across the street from Commons on First is under renovation for a new tenant and the owner of Johnny Boy’s Car Wash is developing an 11,000 square foot strip mall in the same neighborhood.

The neighborhood has a reputation from a history of police activity. This year, Cedar Rapids Police said a total of 58 crimes have been reported in the College District neighborhood including 14 thefts and seven burglaries.

The developer of Commons on First said he considered the neighborhood's past in his plans.

“Being the first one to redevelop I this area, we got a lot of push back saying 'are you sure you want to do that,' 'is that the area you want to go in' – we were pretty confident that we would be successful being here,” Brent Votroubek, co-developer of Commons of First, said.

The city provided a tax incentive for the project and Olson said other developers may be able to take advantage of them as well.

“There was other things that make the project financially not feasible. And so what an incentive does is close the gap and make the project happen and then as that incentive disappears over time, then this becomes a full taxable entity,” Olson said.

Olson said he hopes current projects in the area aren’t the last.

“I think in five years we will not recognize the College District, the medical district, you just go in there, you can see the changes – they are happening every year and I think five years from now, people will not believe the change,” Olson said.

Another business owner in the area said he does not believe bringing new developments to the neighborhood will actually attract new people to the district.