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

Facilitator on the way to sort out differences and get New Bohemia’s Third Street SE rebuilt

In City Hall, New Bohemia on June 3, 2008 at 4:26 am

Not doing a thing can be a good thing to do, and in two significant instances, the current City Council arguably did just that.

In one case late last year, the council decided not to build a new $13-million Intermodal Transit Facility two blocks from what the council now believes is a poorly positioned Ground Transportation Center bus depot.

In a second case 18 months ago, the council put on hold a $3-million-plus plan to rebuild Third Street SE, between Eighth and 14th avenues SE, into a special avenue identifying it as the heart of the New Bohemia arts and cultural district.

Creating a Third Street SE arts district is a decade-old idea and it is part of the community’s Fifteen in 5 initiative to reach 15 identified goals in five years.

But in late 2006, the council, with direction from city staff, decided that there was no rush to transform the street that, in the short run, was being used to haul loads of demolition debris from the former Sinclair packing plant at the end of Third Street SE at 14th Avenue SE.

At the same time, a dispute about the design of the street had exploded between New Bohemia arts types and major property owners along the street, including banker Ernie Buresh and the Brosh Funeral Home.

So the council decided to set the entire matter aside for a time rather than try to pick between a modern design for the street and Buresh’s wish for a more historic design similar to the one across the river in Czech Village.

That was then. It’s a new day. Now they are back at.

On Monday evening and at the City Council’s direction, a steering committee of Third Street SE interests decided to follow the council’s directive. The committee selected a facilitator to help the group find common ground so the Third Street SE project can move ahead quickly.

Gary Petersen, the city’s traffic engineer, ran the Monday evening meeting, and he insisted that the group follow the council’s wish and hire a facilitator.

Those among the group who were talking most suggested that the controversy had ended and there was agreement on what Third Street SE should look like.

However, Petersen pointed out that many people were not at the meeting (or were at the meeting and not speaking) and had had strong feelings about the Third Street SE project. And for that reason, he said, a facilitator and a process of public input were needed to give everyone a chance to have their wishes heard.

Agreeing, the 10-member steering committee, which includes some of key central players in the Third Street SE debate, said it wanted the city to use the same facilitator that brought a successful resolution last year to another Third Street SE issue — getting semi-trailer trucks headed to the Penford Products plant off the street.

Before and after Monday evening’s meeting, Buresh, owner of Village Bank & Trust, 1201 Third St. SE, still expressed strong feelings about having Third Street SE look similar to the new historic look across the river in Czech Village.

Clearly, though, Buresh did not care to mix it up at Monday night’s meeting with those who have favored a more modern, artsy street design, including Michael Richards, a New Bohemia member and president of the Oak Hill Jackson Neighborhood Association.

In some respects, though, Buresh seems to have gotten much of his way.

Richards and others, for now, willingly have set aside many of the original design ideas that they had favored — gateways, flood lights shining on buildings, kiosks, special graphic treatments.

On Monday night, Richards, Jim Jacobmeyer, president of the New Bohemia group, and Fred Timko, president/CEO of Point Builders who is converting the former Osada building into the Bottleworks condominiums, all spoke in favor of what they called a basic, “neutral” street plan with some benches and planters and pavement design work at two intersections along the street. The street also will be a little narrower and will have wider sidewalks than now for a couple blocks to make it more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

Jacobmeyer noted that past problems have centered on design “enhancements” to the street concept. He said it made sense to get the street in place and then worry about enhancements.

Richards said neutral was best and would better fit what will be the mix of existing, historic buildings on the street and new ones that will come in the years ahead.

In fact, Richards suggested that it might be best to spend less on Third Street SE if it meant it would make money available to also redo 14th Avenue SE from Third Street SE to the Cedar River and the Bridge of the Lions that connects to Czech Village.

The city’s Petersen noted that the city had sold $3.38 million in bonds to help pay for the Third Street SE replacement, but the city had not made any financial arrangements for an improvement on 14th Avenue SE. Trying to add the 14thAvenue SE work into the Third Street SE one would surely delay matters, which David Chadima, owner of the Cherry Building, did not want to see happen.

Clearly, some in the group were still adjusting to the fact that owners of property along Third Street SE likely will be expected to contribute some to the street’s renovation. A few years ago, the City Hall idea was that the street would be transformed at City Hall expense as part of a larger, Vision Iowa-supported Cedar Bend revitalization project. Cedar Bend, though, fell apart.

The new City Council has made it clear that they expect the owners of property to contribute, or as Timko put it Monday night, “to have some skin in the game.”

Dave Elgin, the city’s public works director and city engineer, said the council did not want to build a new street, instantly increase the value of property along it, and then see the owners of that property sell their property quickly for what would be an unearned profit. Instead, the council likely would expect the owners of property to pay a special assessment or to otherwise show that they have invested to upgrade their properties as the city is upgrading the street.

Issues related to who is paying for the street is one of things that the facilitator will help the group address.

The city’s Elgin encouraged the group to move quickly to work with the facilitator.

Several people also talked about joining forces with Czech Village across the river and working to create a special taxing district similar to one in place downtown. Extra tax money collected in the district would be used to support the district.

Several other things are happening on Third Street SE:

Timko has begun the renovation of the former Osada building into the Bottleworks condominiums at 905 Third St. SE.

The City Council has selected the site across the street from Timko’s project as its preferred location with the city’s new Intermodal Transit Facility.

And the city is finally readying to demolish the former Quality Chef industrial buildings just down Third Street SE. New Bohemia’s Jacobmeyer said the city’s development director has reported that the city has decided to demolish all of the Quality Chef property – the city purchased it a few years ago – and plans to decide on a demolition date by the end of the month.

  1. I have watched these proposals for years. I’m still extremely skeptical money spent in this area will make a material difference. I hope I’m proven wrong.

    It is very interesting to watch the dynamics change as people are required to “put skin in the game”.

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