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Former well-known City Council members Hanson and Zahn seek key Linn County offices: Does the Hy-Vee vote say anything you like about either of them?

In City Hall, Linn County government on May 31, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Elected officials cast oodles of votes over time, and dragging just one vote from the dust bin of local history is iffy at best.

But it’s tempting.

The temptation came in recent days when a couple of young professionals, who have recently moved to Cedar Rapids, were talking about the First Avenue Hy-Vee Food Store, pointing out that it was different than the grocer’s other suburban-style stores in Cedar Rapids.

The store at 1556 First Ave. NE is different: It is Hy-Vee’s only store in an urban neighborhood in Cedar Rapids.

It’s smaller than other stores. It has a warehouse-style like a Sam’s Club store. The floors are polished concrete. The customer base is the city’s most diverse. Some people actually walk to shop there.

These youngster pros, though, had no idea how the 6-year-old store came to be and they didn’t know the great community debate that preceded the store’s construction.

Do you remember it?

Two former Cedar Rapids City Council members who cast votes on the First Avenue NE store’s future back in 2001 now are running for key elective Linn County offices.

Lyle Hanson, who served two stints as Cedar Rapids finance commissioner/council member, is on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot, giving incumbent Linn County Auditor Joel Miller a run for his seat.

And David Zahn, who served as Cedar Rapids public safety commissioner/council member, is running as a Republican for Linn County sheriff. Zahn is not being challenged in Tuesday’s primary, but will have a Democrat to contend with in November.

Hanson voted against providing Hy-Vee Food Stores with $915,000 in local incentives upfront to build their new store at the First Avenue site, while Zahn, after some uncertainty, became the third and decisive backer of the incentives. His backing cleared the way for the new store to be built.

It was a great debate. It remains a great debate. Thousands of people in Cedar Rapids drive by the store everyday on busy First Avenue East near downtown. What do you think about the store when you drive by?

After all, City Hall had not been in the business of extending tax incentives, usually used for industrial projects, for a retail store.

Were the incentives fair to other grocers? Should Wal-Mart or Target or Aldi or Fareway get incentives when they decide to build somewhere?

Hanson, who at the end of the day cast the lone “no” vote on the project, concluded that the city’s upfront cost for the Hy-Vee project was too high. He thought, too, that the city ought to spend some time to see if other grocery chains might be willing to build on the site. Maybe another grocer would do it for less, he said.

Zahn finally concluded that the issue was as much about neighborhood revitalization and public safety as it was about retailing. Older urban neighborhoods like the two that depend on the First Avenue NE store – Wellington Heights and Mound View – deteriorate when they lose their grocery store, Zahn concluded.

He noted, too, that the city had intended to use incentives for a nearby industry, Cedarapids Inc., but the industry had not met job retention and hiring requirements. So the city had tax revenue it could steer to the Hy-Vee store, Zahn argued.

As recently as 2001, the Hy-Vee store at 1556 First Ave. NE was a tiny, century-old eyesore that Hy-Vee had been readying to desert for a year or more and neighborhood leaders had spent a decade trying to get Hy-Vee to replace.

Then-Mayor Lee Clancey and then-Parks Commissioner Dale Todd lobbied Hy-Vee hard to work with the city to come up with a way to build rather than flee.

At the store groundbreaking in October 2001, Ron Pearson, Hy-Vee president, said neither Hy-Vee nor any grocery chain in the world could have built a new store on the site without city help.

Pearson said he told Clancey, “We have looked at every number know to a human being, and I can’t take it to our stockholders and tell them we’re going to build a project and lose money forever.”

The grocer had been leasing the former store, a 13,000-square-foot testament to a long-gone era of grocery sales.

The near-$1-million city incentive came in the form of tax-increment financing, and is an amount the city will recoup over 20 years from the increase in property taxes the new store and other new development will generate in the urban renewal district that the store is in.

The city money was used to purchase land, demolish the old store and pay for a nicer exterior to the new store.

At the groundbreaking, Pearson said Hy-Vee was investing $5 million in the store. He said the new store would employ twice as many employees as the 50 in the old store.

The new store is a 26,000-square-foot one, which is less than half the size of most of its suburban-style stores, the company said at the time.

Among those at the groundbreaking was council member Hanson. Being on the short end of a council vote wasn’t going to keep him away from where the city was headed, and where it was spending its money.

Clancey and Todd didn’t survive the 2001 election, while Hanson and Zahn were reelected.

Clancey said at the time she didn’t know if backing the First Avenue Hy-Vee cost her some votes elsewhere in the city. It shouldn’t have: The store was good for the entire community, she said then.

Vernon takes to the wheel to see city’s streets, its battlegrounds, its future up close

In City Hall, Monica Vernon on May 31, 2008 at 4:02 am

Monica Vernon is thinking of trading in the SUV for a little hybrid.

Vernon, the District 2 council member elected last November, just can’t stop driving around Cedar Rapids, she says.

“I didn’t realize what a visual person I am,” she says. “I want to see what’s happening or not happening. It’s amazing once you get out here what you see.”

Day had followed Wednesday night and Vernon was still eager to talk about two high-drama council decisions, both involving plenty of objecting neighbors from nicer, new neighborhoods.

Neighbors lost to developers in both instances in what is the first, though probably the biggest, of a three-inning battle.

The council agreed, 7-2, to change the city’s future land-use map to allow a Walgreens drug store on C Avenue NE in what is a stand of timber next to a Road Ranger convenience store. And the council made a land-use change, 6-2, to allow for the proposed Tudor Rose condominium project on six west-side acres that now are home to the Baumhoefener Nursery.

Vernon opposed the first, which is in her council district, and voted with the council majority on Tudor Rose.

The two developments now need to get zoning changes, which is a much easier task once the land-use has changed, and then a site plan approval.

Vernon was behind the wheel Thursday morning to provide a first-hand look at both developments, a look she clearly has had before.

The president of her own market research company and a former member of the City Planning Commission, Vernon was pointing out her reservations about the Walgreens proposal as now conceived.

The land-use change, she noted, puts a commercial development right next to single-family homes when the preferred land-use policy is to have a softer property classification – office/service or multifamily residential – between single family homes and a commercial development like a Walgreens.

In this instance, the developer and property owner made creative peace with neighbors closest to the development by giving each of them a piece of the timber to add to their back yards to buffer them from the Walgreens. So those neighbors are happy.

But Vernon still wasn’t sure. How’s the design of the Walgreens going to look? she wondered. She was talking red brick, with maybe some ivy on it to help it blend in.

One of Vernon’s focuses as a council member is city streets, and she has begun to persistently advocate for building streets that are both pretty and functional and serve motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Where are the trees, she asked, as she drove north on C Avenue NE? She liked the idea of trees between the street and sidewalk. Trees beautify and calm, she said. She talked about what a planted median can do for swaths of concrete when C Avenue NE turns from four to five lanes.

From the back seat, she grabbed a street-design plan from Charlotte, N.C., a city that considers certain, important streets “signature” streets that need special care.

Vernon turned her SUV around where Tower Terrace Road will be coming through west to east, from Hiawatha to Highway 13. She hoped for planted medians, sidewalks and trails to make it a signature street.

On she drove: Where are the sidewalks, she wondered, around the Rockwell Collins campus? Out on Collins Road NE, which is slated for widening in the years ahead, she was talking about the sidewalks and landscaping that would come with changes there.

She made note of the grassy median on Edgewood Road NW west of the Cedar River, but she then scratched her head that an occasional utility pole, not trees, were sticking up in the median.

At Wiley Boulevard and Johnson Avenue NW, she drove around the block to get a feel for how the proposed Tudor Rose condominium project and the existing neighborhood would fit together. Tudor Rose won’t be much taller than some of the houses, she said. Retirees in condominiums, she added, won’t generate much traffic. She had no regrets about her Wednesday evening vote in favor of the project.

And so it went. There were drive-bys or stops to look at where the city’s new Intermodal Transit Facility is slated to go; where the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library is expanding; where the city’s housing initiative is beginning in the Oak Hill Neighborhood.

The last of Vernon’s three daughters is headed off to college, and Vernon was talking about the life of a mother who spent time hauling daughters and friends around town.

With daughters gone, she now has the issues confronting the City Council to keep her behind the wheel.

“But I need to get a Prius,” she said.


Do City Hall rules let a sufficient number of neighbors know about proposals for big land-use changes?

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Pat Shey, Sarah Henderson on May 30, 2008 at 2:25 pm

City Council meetings can come with some drama when meetings turn to neighborhood disputes and away from thoughtful but less-than-scintillating discussions about vision and key financial strategies.

There was a double-barrel dose of theater this week as neighbors turned out to object to the proposed Tudor Rose condominium complex on the city’s west side and a proposed Walgreens drug store on land that is now trees on busy C Avenue NE next to Road Ranger convenience store at Blairs Ferry Road NE.

The drama comes as the nine members of the City Council explain which side they are coming down on.

A pack of 100 or more angry neighbors can translate into some votes at the next election, and it’s easy to remember that.

In both instances, though, the objecting neighbors lost out, 7-2, on the drug store site, and 6-2 on Tudor Rose proposed for what now is the Baumhoefener Nursery at Johnson Avenue and Wiley Boulevard NW.

Both matters pointed up how entangled the city’s – any city’s – development approval process is and how poorly it actually is followed.

This week’s votes were to approve a change in the city’s future land-use map.

On that map, the spot for the drug store was listed as low-density residential, though city staff said it should have been office/service except for a past error. In any event, this week’s vote changed it to commercial.

Also on the land-use map, the Baumhoefener Nursery site is listed as low-density residential. It now has changed to medium-density residential, which allows for a condominium project.

In the months ahead, both developers will now seek a change in zoning on the sites, and subsequent to that, they will submit site plans.

It’s been a rather recent development, pushed by the developers, to require the City Planning Commission and the City Council to approve land-use issues and zoning issues without seeing the details of what a developer wants to build. The idea has been that often developers didn’t have a specific project in mind, and so invented projects, just to secure approval for a change in land-use and zoning.

In truth, in most instances, the Planning Commission and Council want to know what is going on a piece of ground and use that to make their decisions. In fact, developers often want to tell them if it gains their position favor.

Such was the case in both the Walgreens and Tudor Rose matter this week.

In fact, council members Pat Shey and Chuck Wieneke both voted against the Tudor Rose project – not based on land use – but on the specifics of the Tudor Rose project. They liked the project, but were afraid it would never get built, and standard apartments would go on the site instead.

All that said, former council member Sarah Henderson, who lives in the Lost Quarry residential development near the proposed new Walgreens on C Avenue NE, may have made the best point of all this week.

Henderson spoke for the larger neighborhood at Wednesday evening’s council meeting, expressing dismay that it had not been consulted about the traffic that would come with the new store on an already congested street.

Henderson acknowledged that the developer had done a masterful job of working with the homeowners immediately adjacent to the drug store site. The developer is giving each of those homeowners a section of existing timber to serve as buffer between them and the store.

But Henderson, who was on the council last summer and met with the developer as the District 2 council member, wondered why the developer had not taken time with the wider neighborhood.

In fact, none of those in the wider neighborhood knew anything about a City Planning Commission meeting last month that first approved the land-use change for the proposed drug store. The commission fell in love with the developer and landowner, Midwest Property Group Ltd. And IBEW Local 1362 Building Corp., because of the deal worked out with adjacent property owners.

The reason that no objecting neighbors surfaced then – as Henderson has pointed out — is because of the quirky specifics of the city development approval process.

For land-use changes, the developer must notify via letter only adjacent property owners within 200 feet of the development.

At the next step, the zoning change, the developer is required to post little orange signs announcing the proposed zoning change and the upcoming Planning Commission meeting at which it will be discussed.

The signs, not that easy to see in themselves, announce to a wider area the news of possible coming changes.

But the announcement comes after an all-crucial step likely already has been taken – that the land-use map has changed.

Once the map changes a use for a site to commercial, for instance, zoning to a commercial classification almost naturally follows.

Without a wider notification about a CPC meeting or council meeting to decide a change in land use, only the most devoted of City Hall followers would be paying attention to every planning commission and council agenda to know that a land-use change is in the offing, Henderson says.

Both city staff and the developer note that notification has to stop somewhere. A developer can’t notify everybody everywhere.

Henderson says she came to know of the discussion about land-use at this week’s council meeting only because the zoning signs inadvertently went up too early before the land-use matter was decided by the council.


It’s 10:15 p.m., do you know where your City Council is?

In Brian Fagan, Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Mayor Kay Halloran on May 29, 2008 at 3:41 pm

They have finally decided to go home.

Four hours and 15 minutes after the 6 p.m. start of the Wednesday evening council meeting, the city’s nine council members called it a night.

By then, most anyone in the audience had cleared out. The few from the local media were long gone. And several top city staffers, forced to stay until the end, headed home. They’re back at it now, running the city all over again.

Near the end of the night, Mayor Kay Halloran had left her chair for a short break, and was doing knee bends to loosen up the legs before returning to her seat.

Near 10 p.m., the topic had turned to Minneapolis developer Sherman Associates’ plan to spend $7.7 million to buy and renovate The Roosevelt, the former hotel turned apartment complex.

After renovation, about 85 percent of the 97 apartment units in the 12-story building will be classified as affordable, and much of the federal and state financial help for the project is coming because of the affordable housing component of the renovation.

As part of the financing, the city is being asked to make a $775,000 loan to Sherman Associates, the details of which are still being worked out.

At one point, council member Chuck Wieneke was enthusiastically voicing support for the loan, noting that the council had given ample local financial incentives to the WaterTower Place condominiums downtown and now the  Bottleworks condominium project next door in what is the former Osada building, which had been affordable housing.

The council has steered money to the “upper end” in downtown housing, it’s time it did the same for affordable housing, Wieneke said.

Council member Brian Fagan, sounding a bit weary, said Wieneke’s comments sounded like a seconding of a motion to support the loan, and the matter went to successful vote.

The loan details will come back to the council in a couple weeks for a final vote on the matter.

It had been a long night, which had featured two, hour-plus-long public hearings and council debates on land-use changes, one for the proposed Tudor Rose condominium project on the west side and one for a proposed Walgreens drug store on the east side. Both projects were given the go ahead to proceed to zoning changes.

Few bodies were around, though, to hear about The Roosevelt or the four or five council items that followed.

Prosser doesn’t want to spend for an assistant city manager; instead he gets an assistant to the city manager

In City Hall on May 29, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Sandi Fowler, the city’s neighborhood liaison, has been promoted to the position of assistant to the city manager, a move that puts her title in line with all the duties she has been performing.

Early after the arrival of City Manager Jim Prosser in August 2006, Fowler was moved from the Community Development Department into the city manager’s office. It was a signal that Prosser cared about neighborhoods.

In her new position, she will earn $66,726 a year. Her old salary was $60,548.

Fowler says she will continue to be responsible for activities related to the neighborhoods. But she now also will coordinate customer service and strategic planning for the city.

“Producing results regarding interdepartmental effectiveness and the city’s responsiveness to citizens are expected to be high priorities for my work,” Fowler says.

A committee advising the City Council on City Hall reorganization recommended a year ago that the city consider hiring an assistant city manager to help Prosser. However, Prosser said then he did not want to hire an assistant city manager at a time when the city was cutting postions.

The cost of an assistant city manager likely would be double what Fowler will receive as an assistant to the city manager.



Sarah surfaces; former council member will speak at tonight’s meeting to raise concerns about traffic around a proposed Walgreens store

In City Hall, Sarah Henderson on May 28, 2008 at 8:06 pm

Former City Council member Sarah Henderson is upset about a proposal to change the city’s future land-use map to allow for a drug store on C Avenue NE next to single-family homes and just north of a convenience store at Blairs Ferry Road NE.

The proposed change, sought by Midwest Property Group Ltd., will permit a Walgreens drug store to go on land now listed as residential on the city’s land-use map.

Henderson, who lives on nearby Teakwood Lane NE, says she is most concerned about the added traffic to the surrounding neighborhood that will come with the drug store, and she is wondering, too, about having a 24-hour store operation next to houses.

The developer, she acknowledges, has met with nearby homeowners, but the developer has not done the same with those in the larger neighborhood, she says.

A month ago, the City Planning Commission quickly and unanimously approved this change in the city’s future land-use map after hearing that adjacent homeowners had agreed to the new commercial development and an office development next door, both developments of which back up to homes on one side of Greenfield Street NE.

Helping fuel the agreement was the developer’s decision to give each of the homeowners a piece of the timber that separates homes from the proposed development.

The CPC loved the idea. No one at the meeting raised any concerns about the project.

But what about the rest of the neighborhood? asks Henderson, who served on the City Council in 2006 and 2007 and who is director of strategic marketing for GreatAmerica Leasing Corp.

Funny, but suddenly, Henderson finds herself as a constituent confronted by the regulatory process the city uses to make decisions about developments. And she finds the process lacking.

Asked why she hadn’t objected to the City Planning Commission a month ago, Henderson says she and others in the wider neighborhood didn’t know about the meeting.

For such a meeting, the city’s regulatory process only requires the city to notify property owners within 200 feet of the property slated for a change in land use, she notes.

Henderson says she became aware that the proposed development was moving ahead when signs went up around the site announcing the next step in the regulatory process, an actual change of zoning for the property.

Publicly displayed signs are required for such a zoning change, but that change is easier for a developer to secure once the land-use map already has been changed.

Without a wider notification about a CPC meeting or council meeting to decide a change in land use, only the most devoted of City Hall followers would be paying attention to every planning commission and council agenda to know that a land-use change is in the offing, Henderson says.

She says she now knows of the discussion about land-use at tonight’s council meeting only because the zoning signs went up too early before the land-use matter was decided by the council.

Henderson, who was never shy about weighing in on issues as a council member, says she’s all set to take to the microphone tonight.

Minneapolis developer makes his first move in downtown; readies to buy The Roosevelt and renovate it

In City Hall on May 27, 2008 at 10:59 pm

In January, Minneapolis developer George Sherman said he would buy a historic downtown Cedar Rapids building and renovate it, and he is moving ahead to do just that.

News of Sherman’s plans are front and center on this week’s City Council agenda, and Wednesday evening the council will decide if it will approve a $750,000 loan needed as part of Sherman’s $7.7 million plan to purchase and renovate The Roosevelt, the former downtown hotel that began to be converted to apartments in the 1980s.

The 12-story Roosevelt, built in 1927, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1991.

Sherman Associates’ vice president Jackie Nickolaus, who works from an office in suburban Des Moines, said Tuesday that the firm would use a mix of state and federal tax credits designed to support affordable housing and the preservation of historic buildings to make the purchase and renovation work.

Nickolaus said the plan is for Sherman Associates to close on the sale in August if all goes as planned.

Renovation — which will increase the building’s rental units from the current 93 to 97 — should be complete a year later. The renovation will convert vacant office space on the building’s second floor to 12 rental units, and at the same time, will combine 10 of the existing efficiencies into other units.

The building’s first floor will remain retail with some space used, as now, by the Cedar Rapids schools.

Nickolaus said the renovation won’t be noticeable from the exterior. At the same time, though, the renovation will take what she called a “tired” building, give it some “polish” and make sure it is remains competitive in the downtown housing market.

The plan is for 75 percent of the units to qualify as affordable housing, which limits what a person can earn in household income to qualify and what the property owner can charge in rent.

For a single-person household, for instance, annual household income cannot exceed $28,320 and monthly rent cannot exceed $708. For a four-person household, annual income can’t exceed $40,500 and monthly rent $1,052, according to Iowa Finance Authority figures for Linn County.

The building is by and large full today, and between 55 to 60 percent of the tenants meet affordable-housing guidelines, Nickolaus said.

Sherman Associates’ owner George Sherman was selected by the City Council in recent months as a preferred developer to help the council and city create some new housing and related development downtown.

In a visit to the City Council just last week, Sherman reported that he had spent some time looking at property, much of it city-owned in the downtown, on which he had some ideas for projects.

He said he most quickly would likely move to identify a half block of property between the city’s two hospitals on which to build 40 to 80 units of “workforce housing” for hospital employees.

Downtown, he talked about building an indoor farmers market, riverfront restaurant and apartments at the Cedar River in the city’s Park & Ride lot along Eighth Avenue SE. The new federal courthouse is scheduled to go up across Eighth Avenue SE.

Sherman also said he had an interest in building a new 140-150-room hotel with conference center on the current site of the First Street parking ramp across from the Alliant tower. Finally, he talked about a 40-50-unit residential building for senior housing on the west side of the Cedar River upstream from the police station.

Sherman talks about Cedar Rapids as an accomplished outsider with insight into development garnered from 25 years of building in the Twin Cities and other spots in the Midwest, including St. Louis and Des Moines.

Sherman says Cedar Rapids’ downtown has not seen the growth of other downtowns in the Midwest; that he won’t build for-sale housing units until 2010 and will build rental units in Cedar Rapids first; and that people will want to live closer to work because the price of gasoline won’t ever come down.

Fort Wayne finalist for the Cedar Rapids police chief job gets chief’s job in Kalamazoo

In Police Department on May 26, 2008 at 2:32 am

One of the finalists for Cedar Rapids police chief has been named police chief in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Jeff Hadley, 38, a police captain in Fort Wayne, Ind., was named Kalamazoo police chief on Friday, 10 days after Jim Prosser, Cedar Rapids city manager, passed over Hadley and picked Greg Graham, 46, a deputy chief in Ocala, Fla., as Cedar Rapids’ next chief.

Hadley was among three outsiders and two in-house candidates named as finalists for the Cedar Rapids chief’s job. Hadley came to Cedar Rapids to interview twice.

In hiring Hadley on Friday, Kalamazoo City Manager Kenneth Collard, called him a “rising star” in law enforcement. He said that’s why other cities had considered Hadley for chief.

Hadley will run a department with 247 sworn officers, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette. Cedar Rapids’ department has 201.

Minneapolis developer adds fresh ideas for riverfront: indoor farmers market, hotel, conference center, plaza, housing

In City Hall, Downtown District, Monica Vernon on May 23, 2008 at 2:24 pm

If you squint just right you can start to see pretty pictures turn to reality, can’t you?

This week, accomplished Minneapolis developer/builder/property manager George Sherman came to City Hall again to dazzle the City Council — with photos of his projects in the Twin Cities, Des Moines, Kansas City, St. Louis; and with his ideas and images of what he would like to do in Cedar Rapids.

Imagine: The creaky, old First Street Parkade, which is slated for demolition, is gone across from the Alliant building and in its place, between Second and Third avenues, is a new 140-150-room hotel, with conference space, riverfront restaurant, riverfront plaza for nightlife and condominiums on the hotel’s top floor or floors.

Imagine: A 38,500 square foot, indoor farmers market, with space for outdoor vending in season, as well as a riverfront restaurant and a four-story apartment building (the first floor, which is in a floodplain, would be for parking) along Eighth Avenue SE in what now is the little-used, concrete swath called the city’s Park & Ride lot. The new federal courthouse is expected to go up across Eighth Avenue from the site.

Eventually, over six to eight years, the idea would be for a larger, mixed-use development, with a total of 300-400 apartments, 150 condominiums and a little retail to follow the first construction in the Park & Ride lot.

Imagine: On the west side of the river, upstream from the police station, 40 to 50 units of senior housing along the riverfront.

“I think you nailed it,” council member Monica Vernon told Sherman this week.

In a competition among developers, the City Council picked Sherman in January as its “preferred” developer for a first project of downtown housing. By picking a preferred developer, the council’s intent is to trade incentives for what will be a development with some risk in a still uncertain downtown housing market. At the same time, too, the city will be able to emphasize certain design standards it might not otherwise be able to ask for.

In March, Sherman told the council that he would build rental units before for-sale units because of the downturn in the housing market in Iowa, and to a greater extent, in much of the nation.

In Sherman’s return visit to City Hall this week, you could get the sense that City Manager Jim Prosser has ears, too, and that he hears a little of the urgency from City Council and, no doubt, others that they want to see talk, consulting, planning and designing turn to getting something built.

Prosser told the council this week that now it and the community have an “experienced developer” on hand and an accomplished riverfront planner in place. A year-old downtown revitalization plan, which is viewed as something of a bible for the revitalization of downtown and the area around it, also remains front and center.

“We intended to do just what we’re doing,” Prosser said.

The planner is Sasaki Associates, Watertown, Mass., which the council picked a week ago to create a master plan for the city’s riverfront.

Sasaki representatives have tossed out their own head-turning brainstorms — a riverfront amphitheater right downtown; First Street West as a  “great boulevard;” maybe moving the dam below downtown, which would raise the river and turn it into a “sheet” of water that would look nicer and could be used for boating and ice skating in winter.

Sherman, founder and owner of Sherman Associates, said this week that he would watch Sasaki as it developed its riverfront plan to see how his housing ideas could fit into it.

OPN Architects Inc. of Cedar Rapids is working with both Sasaki and Sherman.

By contract, the Sasaki firm should have ideas for downtown riverfront redevelopment in place in 120 days.

Both firms — coming from the outside as they do — have a way of sounding as if they have a fresh insight that a place can’t have about itself.

For instance, Sherman this week said Cedar Rapids has not enjoyed the downtown growth that other Midwest cities have.

At the same time, Sherman said that Iowa, with its robust farm economy, has weathered the national economic downturn better than most other places, excepting Wyoming, Seattle and a few other spots.

Even so, he said it likely will take until 2010 for developers like himself to get interested anew in building more for-sale housing, though he said now is the time to begin planning. However, he expected current problems in credit markets to fix themselves a year earlier, in 2009, so that banks will be in a position to provide capital for building projects by then.

Sherman’s immediate interest in Cedar Rapids is not the downtown, but the near-downtown.

He said he will try to find a site this summer between the two hospitals to build 40 to 80 units of “workplace housing” to provide walkable, safe rental units for hospital employees who want to live close to work.

Sherman predicted that the price of gasoline will never drop from where it is today, and as a result, more people really will want to be within walking distance of work.

He said his first downtown project is apt to be the apartments, indoor farmers market and riverfront restaurant along Eighth Avenue SE because the site for a hotel across from the Alliant building likely wouldn’t be ready for development until parking is found elsewhere to replace the parkade there.

Sherman said different cities build along the riverfront differently. San Antonio has built right up to the water, while Minneapolis keeps buildings back.