The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Stamats Communications tells City Hall to stay away; build Intermodal Transit Facility elsewhere

In City Hall, Pat Shey, Paul Pate on March 29, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Some $9 million in federal funds for a new downtown Intermodal Transit Facility has been in the city wallet for half a decade now.

It’s become a long story.

In the latest chapter, a City Hall task force is working to find a new site for the facility, which as now planned will become the new home to the city’s bus depot, now at the Ground Transportation Center, and also home to the Neighborhood Transit Service vans, LIFTs buses and the occasional intercity bus.

In early February, the task force and then the City Council identified four downtown sites that seemed best bets for housing the new Intermodal.

Three of the four are privately owned: the 400 block of Fourth Avenue SE, which houses TrueNorth Companies; the 500 block of Sixth Avenue SE across from the U.S. Post Office; and the 300 block of Ninth Avenue SE, occupied by Loftus Distributing Co.

The fourth location, the most distant from downtown, is the site of the former Iowa Iron Works, now owned by the city, in the 400 block of 12th Avenue SE.

Part of the option in the 500 block of Sixth Avenue SE is owned by Stamats Communications Inc., 615 Fifth St. SE.

And in a pointed letter to City Hall on March 26, Guy Wendler, president/CEO of Stamats, said the city should shop elsewhere.

“In sum, we are not interested in considering the sale of the subject property and are quite concerned that it is even being considered given the expected adverse impact on our business,” Wendler writes.

In the letter, he spells out five specific reasons why Stamats would not want to sell and why it would harm the firm if such a thing happened. Among his points:

–Stamats recently demolished an old building to create a landscaped parking area for employees. Giving the lot up would make it harder to retain and recruit employees

— Stamats has made a substantial investment in its headquarters building, 615 Fifth St. SE, and also has improved the third and fourth floors of the Theatre Cedar Rapids Building in downtown where the company leases space.

— Stamats, which provides marketing products for colleges and universities,  has created a “campus-wide” design at its headquarters to help make clients feel comfortable when they visit.

“For them to come here and enter a building across the street from a busy bus station would not leave them with the type of impression we feel is important for keeping their business,” Wendler says.

Prompting the letter from Stamats’ Wendler was a recent visit from Sam Shea, the city’s long-range planning coordinator and the head of the downtown task force on the Intermodal.

Shea is scheduled to speak to the City Council at its work session on Wednesday evening to update them on the Intermodal.

In truth, Shea is in the midst of a complicated assignment, which he has said means that the construction of the Intermodal is still a couple years away.

Firstly, City Hall must find a site. Then it must win the backing of the Federal Transit Administration to move the site of the Intermodal from where it had been slated to be built. And it also must win the federal agency’s blessing to move the existing bus depot, which the agency help fund 25 years ago.

A quick little history:

The Intermodal first was slated to be built across First Avenue East from the U.S. Cellular Center. The city has design plans.

But the plans changed, and City Hall during Mayor Paul Pate’s administration opted to put the facility in 600 block of Second Street SE. The federal transit agency ultimately agreed. The city bought the land and paid for the design drawings.

Last fall, though, the new City Council pulled the plug on a second idea after council member Pat Shey said it didn’t make sense to build it so near the existing bus depot and after a Twin Cities consultant said the building’s 500-space parking ramp as well as its transit component would both be obsolete the day the facility opened.

That changed everything. The idea now is to incorporate the existing Ground Transportation Center bus depot in the new facility, convert the bus depot to something else and to forego the parking-ramp component of what is built.

The City Council also would love to identify a private partner who might be willing to incorporate some kind of mixed use – offices, residential units, for instance – into the new facility.

  1. I totally agree with Mr Windler. The City has much better locations to place the Transit Facility. I also agree it would be a great Public/Private Partnership. Let’s hope a Positive Solution can be found.

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