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

Third Street SE’s design back on the agenda; ‘New Bohemia’ offers to forget ‘pigeon roosts’

In City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Kris Gulick, New Bohemia on April 4, 2008 at 3:43 am

New Bohemia and a stretch of Third Street SE are headed back into the news.

In part, the reason is this: Two significant things happened to the 900 block of Third Street SE in two weeks.

Last week, the City Council backed an agreement with local developer Fred Timko to provide incentives that he says will allow him to spend about $6.5 million to convert the failed Osada low-income apartment complex into 58 residential units he’s calling the Bottleworks condominiums.

Then this week, the council signaled its intent to have the city build its new Intermodal Transit Facility – the city has $9 million in federal funds for it — in the 900 block of Third Street SE across from the Osada/Bottleworks building.

Council member Kris Gulick calls two multimillion-dollar moves like that “catalysts” worthy of having City Hall take a fresh look at the future of the entire stretch of Third Street SE — from the Osada/Bottleworks building to 14th Avenue SE and the gateway to the former Sinclair meatpacking site.

This is no easy task. In fact, 15 months ago, the council and city staff backed off the assignment in the midst of neighborhood dispute.

The Third Street SE dispute is coming back around, too, because the Oak Hill/Jackson Neighborhood Association and the New Bohemia area – the latter is an arts and cultural district that is geographically a part of the former – is readying to come to the City Council meeting next week to ask the council to get moving on revitalizing Third Street SE.

“Getting it on the agenda is step one,” Michael Richards, president of the neighborhood association and a New Bohemia board member, said Thursday when he heard of Gulick’s move to take up the Third Street SE matter anew.

“Making decisions is step two,” Richards added.

At the heart of the dispute is taste.

The New Bohemia group has embraced a modernistic design for street and streetscape on Third Street SE, which was professionally designed at city expense after several public input sessions.

However, some of the larger property owners along Third Street SE, including banker Ernie Buresh, have favored a street and streetscape design that has a Czech flavor similar to what has been put in place across the Cedar River in Czech Village.

There are even more worms in that can, though.

Complicating matters further is a broader issue of what Third Street SE’s function should be, Jim Prosser, city manager, and Dave Elgin, public works director, suggested in late 2006. At that time, both noted that Third Street SE is a minor arterial street designed to move traffic.

It turns out that both competing design concepts, New Bohemia’s and Buresh’s, are more pedestrian-friendly, less vehicle-friendly.

In 2006, too, the city had just bought the old packinghouse property with $2 million in city funds and $2 million in private grant money, and Elgin noted that there were not many other ways to get traffic to the site if the city succeeds in developing it.

“To be real blunt,” Prosser said then, “if you make this change, you’re eliminating an option you might wish you had kept in play when you look at (the Sinclair site).”

Again, that was 17 months ago.

This week, Gulick pointed out the Osada redevelopment project includes a provision for streetscape along Third Street SE in the Osada block.

As a result, “the timing is right” to revisit the design and streetscaping issues along the entire stretch of Third Street SE, he told his council colleagues this week.

In an interview Thursday, he said it would be a “mistake” to not have a consistency of design throughout the entire stretch of street.

“Ideally, you come to some middle ground that everybody might be satisfied with,” he said when asked if the thought the council could break the impasse.

Gulick said he finds it hard to imagine that the streetscaping now in place in downtown Cedar Rapids was embraced on all sides without some disagreements. But it was worked out, he said.

Both Gulick and council colleague Jerry McGrane said they want the council also to discuss the possibility of creating what Gulick called a “business improvement district” in the New Bohemia area not unlike the district in nearby downtown Cedar Rapids. In such an arrangement, property owners agree to an extra property-tax assessment with the money used in the district.

 The creation of such a district, though, would make it important that owners of property – “who have skin in the game” – have input into decisions in the district, Gulick said.

District 3 council member McGrane, who lives close by at 1018 Second St. SE, said he would like the council to sort the street design dispute out. He thought a few meetings and a council vote would do it.

The neighborhood’s and New Bohemia’s Richards also is advocating the creation of what he calls the New Bohemia Commercial District self-supporting municipal district like what Gulick and McGrane are talking about.

Richards envisions it reaching from the Cedar River to Fifth Street SE and Eighth Avenue SE to encompass the Sinclair site.

In a letter to his members, Richards said he, the neighborhood association and New Bohemia also want the council to get moving on the Third Street SE renovation, on which the city had intended to spend $3.4 million a couple years ago.

Richards also says New Bohemia is willing to compromise with Buresh on the street’s design. New Bohemia, he says, will give up on the proposed arches at the gateways to the Third Street SE area.

Buresh has called the arches “pigeon roosts,” Richards notes.

  1. I made several e-mails to councilman Gulick, about this very issue and I am happy to report he did what he said he would do by bringing up this issue in the council work session. The streetscape project is something that has been left hanging for several years and with the change to high end condos at the former OSADA building that called for yet another streetscape for only that block was undoing all the money spent in design work and time the neighborhood had spent coming up with a plan for the entire street. Having a street for the purpose of utilizing the old packing house would again jepordize the local landscape which includes several Historic Preservation sites. The business of eliminating the unofficial truck routes through that area was an important part of maintaining that location as a cultural and historic district. What happens to the remains of the packing house is something that will take years to settle. Since the city has also purchased the RUSCAR property they can build a road extension through that property and connect with the truck route going to the grain handling operation on Otis Road. Lets get over this business that everything has to lead to the downtown or has to directly connect with the down town in some way. We have already spent $200,000 dollars on the planning for the streetscape, lets get our moneys worth out of that expenditure.

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