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City focuses anew on New Bohemia brownfields; contaminated soil at former Iowa Steel and Iowa Iron Works sites to be removed to ready for redevelopment

In New Bohemia on July 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

City Hall is taking a fresh step in its decade-long plan to clean up nearly 50 acres of old industrial sites a few blocks from the edge of downtown.

By early August, a contractor will begin excavating “contaminated soil” at the sites of the former Iowa Steel plant and the former Iowa Iron Works plant, which straddle the 400 block of 12th Avenue SE. These sites are just up the street from a Third Street SE commercial strip now considered the heart of the New Bohemia arts and entertainment district.

The city’s work order calls for the first six feet of ground at the former Iowa Steel site at 415 12th Ave. SE to be removed and hauled to the local landfill and for the first three feet of ground at the former Iowa Iron Works site at 400 12th Ave. SE, likewise, to be removed and hauled to the local landfill.

At that point, tests will be conducted to make sure no additional contaminants remain in the soil. Further excavation will take place if there are additional contaminants.

Richard Luther, the city’s development manager, reported on Monday that Rathje Construction Co., Marion, submitted the apparent low bid for the project of about $42,000, nearly $30,000 below the engineer’s estimate for the work, he said.

The city’s bid documents call for the work to be completed by Sept. 30. Once completed, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will issue a letter stating that no further action is necessary.

Luther said the two brownfield industrial sites can be redeveloped for commercial, office or residential use.

City documents note that the city is basing the scope of the excavations on an October 2005 report prepared by engineering firm Howard R. Green Co. of Cedar Rapids.

Of the two former metal plants, the Iowa Iron Works plant was demolished most recently, in the summer of 2001.

The city owns two other former industrial sites nearby, the empty former Quality Chef Co. building on Third Street SE and the empty former Sinclair meatpacking site at the end of Third Street SE.

Last week, council member Brian Fagan asked for updates on those two properties, both of which took on flood water in 2008. Fagan wondered when they might be demolished.

Demolitions of flood-wrecked homes in New Bohemia moved too fast for history

In Floods, New Bohemia on February 16, 2009 at 10:46 pm

History matters.

The city of Cedar Rapids is being reminded of that and of just how particular the federal government can be about the past.

The reminder came after the city demolished six flood-wrecked properties in what in recent years has come to be known as the New Bohemia area along and near Third Street SE south of downtown.

After last June’s flood, all six properties were among the 71 that the city tagged with a purple placard in the city’s worst-to-best color system that went from purple to red to yellow to green. A purple placard signified that the property was too dangerous to enter, and so needed to be demolished.

Among the first of the purple properties to come down were six in The New Bohemia area, which – with the help of City Hall – gained national historic stature in recent years as the Bohemian Commercial District. This was the spot to first house immigrants from Bohemia in what today is the Czech Republic who had come to Cedar Rapids in the latter 19th Century to work nearby in what then was the Sinclair meatpacking site.

What the city has come to learn is that it shouldn’t demolish anything in a nationally recognized historic district without first following federal rules related to the historic recognition.

Those rules are part of the National Historic Preservation Act.

In order to comply with the rules of the federal act, the city is among parties that have signed a memorandum of agreement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an agreement which requires that information on the historic aspects of the six demolished properties be collected and recorded for future reference.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to fund an intensive historic survey of the remaining parts of the Bohemian Commercial District to verify if structures should retain their National Registry eligibility. The FEMA-funded survey also will determine if a National Historic District exists across the Cedar River from the Bohemian Commercial District in Czech Village where the heart of the Czech commercial activity eventually moved.

Vern Zakostelecky, a long-range planning coordinator for the city of Cedar Rapids, said a historic status for Czech Village will give the district access to grants it otherwise would not have access to.

Zakostelecky said the six demolished properties which now will get an historical accounting were at 1308 Second St. SE, 1312 Second St. SE, 1013 Third St. SE, 1019 Third St. SE, 211-213 13th Ave. SE and 1221 Third St. SE.

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.

Chapter closes on Osada low-income apartments; new one is opening on Bottleworks condos; first units ready in August

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Kris Gulick, New Bohemia on May 16, 2008 at 2:29 pm

New life for the empty Osada building has begun to take shape.

Fred Timko, president of Point Builders Inc. of Cedar Rapids, reports that his company has begun the renovation of the Osada building from its former self, 67 units of low-income loft apartments, to its new self, 58 condominium units.

The first four condo units — units will be priced generally between $100,000 and $200,000 — should be ready for display in August, Timko reports.

Timko is calling the new condos, Bottleworks. The five-story, warehouse-style building, at 905 Third St. SE, once was just that, a Hires Root Beer bottleworks, he says.

The progress on the Osada transformation came to mind this week when Tom Aller and Jim Ernst made appearances at the City Council meeting.

Aller is president if Alliant Energy’s subsidiary Interstate Power and Light Co.; Ernst, president/CEO of the family services agency, Four Oaks.

Both were big players in seeing to it that something came of the failed Osada project.

Osada was created a decade ago in a complicated, creative financing arrangement that included upfront money from Alliant Investments Inc. in exchange for the federal government awarding Alliant tax credits against some of the company’s federal tax load.

Alliant, thus, was a limited, behind-the-scenes partner in the Osada project with the MidAmerica Housing Partnership. And then MAHP failed last fall.

Four Oaks stepped in to operate the assortment of MAHP properties, and it since has created the Affordable Housing Network to assume control of the former MAHP units.

But as Ernst told the City Council again this week, the  Osada project was simply too big and too financially troubled to continue in its role as a low-income housing.

In the financial agreements between the Iowa Finance Authority, Alliant and Timko in closing the books on Osada, a Timko-led entity called BPI-GRR LLC, has paid about $3.1 million for the Osada building, money that the Authority and Alliant have taken to try to cover what they had invested  the property. Neither the Authority nor Alliant was expected to be made whole on their investments.

From the $3.1 million, Aller presented a check of $175,000 to Ernst and the Affordable Housing Network as part of that financial settlement closing out the former life of the Osada venture.

Ernst, in turn, handed the check to the city of Cedar Rapids to cover liens the city held against another former MAHP property, the 15-unit Brown Apartments, 1234 Fourth Ave. SE. The check to the city, Ernst explained in front of the City Council, clears the way for a new, $2-million tax-credit investment that will allow for the renovation of the Brown Apartments for affordable housing.

In front of the council, Aller thanked Ernst and Four Oaks for its role in stepping in to rescue most of the MAHP properties and to help figure out a new life for the Osada building.

“Cedar Rapids is a better place because of what Jim Ernst and Four Oaks have done,” Aller said.

Ernst said every resident of the former Osada project who has chosen so has been placed in a new living situation here, and all of those people have spoken positively of the move, he said.

Ernst told the council that the city is in great need of more affordable housing units, particularly three- and four-bedroom apartments.

Council member Kris Gulick asked Ernst about affordable-housing demand, and Ernst said there were over 1,000 families that could benefit from additional affordable housing in the community.

As a side note, Point Builders’ Timko says he thinks the city’s proposal to build its new Intermodal Transit Facility across Third Street SE from Bottleworks will enhance the Bottleworks property and be an asset for those who come to live there. The Intermodal will be a scaled-back version of a former design, which incorporated a 500-vehicle parking ramp into the design.

Timko also is one of the people on a new committee to try to hash out differing ideas on the design of the Third Street SE renovation project, which the City Council has given the go-ahead on. The New Bohemia group has wanted a more modern design, while some property owners have insisted on a Czech theme similar to Czech Village across the river. Timko isn’t from either camp.

Gardening initiative is started in Oakhill, but not before some back-and-forth between neighborhood and City Hall

In City Hall, New Bohemia on May 13, 2008 at 4:54 pm

On Monday evening, about 40 or so neighborhood residents turned out to start a new community garden and gardening classroom on city park space that the neighborhood calls Poet’s Park.

Michael Richards, the president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association, initially had asked City Hall to let the neighborhood set up its demonstration garden on one of many vacant lots the city now owns in a part of the neighborhood for which a new housing initiative is targeted.

But City Hall didn’t like the idea, saying the properties were being readied for housing. Once a garden is in place, it might be impossible to move it, was part of the thinking.

To that, Richards landed on Poet’s Park, a recent creation. For that space, the neighborhood and the city have had an agreement in place that allows for the planting of prairie beds of prairie flowers to help create kind of a peaceful, reflective spot.

However, setting up a community garden is different than a couple of flower beds.

Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director, noted in the last couple weeks that the city can’t just automatically let people start tilling city park space whenever they get the urge. What if others didn’t want the garden on park space? It’s easy to get the tiller out, but who is going to make sure someone follows through?

For that reason, the city has a policy and procedures for community gardens, and the city devotes a couple of large spaces for just such a thing.

In any event, Sina suggested that Richards create his community demonstration garden along Otis Road and not in Poet’s Park.

Richards would not have it. Asked how he got his way, Richards said on Tuesday, “I guess raw persistence.”

The neighborhood now is planning a 30 by 50 foot garden, and gardener Steve Hanken will oversee the operation, Richards reported.

At last night’s gardening kickoff, Richards said a group of about 40 people turned out, with 12 to 15 families arranging to help with the demonstration garden. Many of those also received seeds to plant in backyard gardens they are going to create as part of the neighborhood gardening effort.

Richards said a vacant city lot at 12th Avenue and Eighth Street SE was his first option for the demonstration garden, but Poet’s Park, also on busy 12th Avenue SE, is nearly as good.

He said it’s good because of its visibility. “That really drew people” to Monday evening’s event, he said.

No, it wasn’t as easy as he had thought to get a neighborhood gardening project, which is designed to spread gardening enthusiasm to more people, Richards said.

“I guess I was surprised it took so long, but we’re happy where it is. There were 40 really happy people last night,” he said.

Richards offered this quote, too, about persistence: “First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. … and then you win — if you speak with a clear voice.” Richards didn’t say that first. Ghandi did.



Turbulent week for one advocate of neighborhood, community gardens, arts and cultural district

In City Hall, New Bohemia on April 26, 2008 at 2:57 am

Michael Richards isn’t one to go home at night and sit in the easy chair, content from there to yell at the talking heads on the nightly cable TV shows.

President of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association and an active member of the New Bohemia cultural group, Richards, though, isn’t averse to making his views known about things that he and a network of friends and acquaintances care about.

Things like the long-sought Third Street SE arts and cultural district, and his own neighborhood and, most recently, a community garden in that neighborhood.

As the week ended, Richards, turning sometimes impatient, was still in back-and-forth negotiations with city officials over the neighborhood’s desire to create a garden. The idea is that it will become something of open-air classroom to teach youngsters and others about the sense and joy of gardening.

What Richards has learned along the way is that city officials don’t want to willy-nilly hand over permission to anyone and everyone who has a good idea and a tiller and wants to plow up a piece of city property.

“There’s a process so we can manage the park system,” explained Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director, late Friday afternoon. “I just can’t let people dig up park land anywhere they think it (a garden) should go.”

Initially, Richards made note that the city is buying up vacant lots in Oakhill with the intent of luring contractors to build houses on them. Richards wanted to use one of those for the community garden, a notion the city rejected. The city wants the lots available to market.

The city then offered a city parcel in Oakhill on Otis Road SE, but Richards said it had too much shade. He then decided to use Poet’s Park, where the neighborhood and the city already have an agreement for the neighborhood to plant flower beds. Putting a garden in, though, requires amending the agreement.

At the end of the work day Friday, the city’s Sina was still at it, again suggesting Richards look at the Otis Road SE park space. Sina said she and her staff had marked out a spot that has the exact kind of sun for a garden the size of the one Richards had intended for Poet’s Park.

Richards will look at it Monday, he told Sina.

The garden issue was still rattling around when Richards turned up at the Wednesday evening City Council meeting to protest a law-enforcement raid of his property at 1029 Third St. SE on Friday afternoon, April 18. The property is an old storefront, above which he and his wife, Lynette, live, in the heart of New Bohemia and the proposed Third Street SE arts and cultural district.

Richards suggested this point: At a time when the local Police Department and the Department of Correctional Services both are trumpeting their commitment to “community-oriented” law enforcement, why couldn’t the agencies have known that he has been a candle maker, has sold his formula for making candles out of soybean wax and continues to research new uses for soybean oil.

Richards’ e-mail address, after all, is

Richards’ son, Solomon, is on probation, had been accused of not following rules and was the subject of an arrest warrant on the day of the raid.

It was correctional officers who first came to Richards’ address to arrest the son and found a broken window and what to them was a suspicious-looking barrel. Was it a possible methamphetamine lab? In short order, federal drug agents were called to the scene and Cedar Rapids police arrived as backup, reports Bruce VanderSanden, a division manager at the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services.

VanderSanden noted that those under probation supervision give permission for their premises to be searched, and so officers were able to enter the Richards’ property to hunt for him. No one was home. In short order, the officers learned of Richards’ research into soybeans from another son, who lives next door, and the raid ended.

Richards now says that he had had an opportunity to talk to law enforcement officers, and now had a better understanding of how things came to what they did. He was going to leave it at that.

Even so, earlier in the week, he pointed out that he is available and pretty visible in the neighborhood. He said he and his wife have many people in and out of their storefront and home. Those people have included people involved in the New Bohemia cultural group, Cedar Rapids Women for Peace, poetry groups, a local food planning group and the neighborhood association. The mayor and council members have spent time in the very space where police officers raided, Richards said.

The door was open, he noted, when the authorities entered.

In truth, Richards has had more successful, less turbulent  weeks.

Earlier this month, he and others lobbied the City Council to move forward with a promised plan to renovate Third Street SE from Eighth to 14th Avenues SE and transform it into the heart of the arts and cultural district.

The council, which had put plans on hold 17 months ago, voted to move ahead on the renovation.

A fight looms over the street’s design, though the New Bohemia group has softened its position in recent weeks.

Another earlier struggle, one which extended over some years, centered on getting grain-hauling, semi-trailer trucks off Third Street SE. The trucks lumbered in large numbers down the street, only to park at the Sinclair plant site to wait until the Penford Products Inc. plant across the river was ready to unload them. At the urging of Richards and others, the city and company finally reached an agreement that keeps the trucks on the river’s west side near the Penford plant.


A little red tape, not tilling, is Oakhill’s first task to make new community garden in a city park take root

In City Hall, New Bohemia on April 23, 2008 at 3:19 am

The Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association already has had its master gardener lay out the 20-by-30-foot garden plot on a piece of city park that the neighborhood and the New Bohemia group named Poet’s Park back in 2005.

Tilling is set for the next day or two, reports Michael Richards, the articulate advocate for the neighborhood and the part of it called New Bohemia.

Probably. City Hall still has a question or so.

No doubt, Richards and the neighborhood association are enthused about the idea of creating a brand new community garden. They want to use it as a demonstration plot for those in the neighborhood and elsewhere, including youngsters. They see it as a place to learn and to come to love gardening.

Two weeks ago, Richards attended the City Council meeting to talk about his garden plans, asking the city to let the neighborhood use one of the many vacant lots in a part of Oakhill for the demonstration garden

The part of the neighborhood he was talking about is the site for an emerging City Hall initiative called HAND – Housing and Neighborhood Development – in which the city is in the process of buying up a significant number of vacant lots. The plan is to provide incentives for builders to build on the lots.

Richard’s idea is that some if not many of the lots will remain vacant for a number of years, so why not put one of them to use in the meantime as a community garden.

Understand, the season has changed, the sun is up and the rain is coming down, and Richards wants to get to gardening.

City Hall doesn’t move quite so fast, nor should it, Sandi Fowler, the city’s neighborhood liaison, explained on Tuesday.

The city can’t just start tilling on public property. If the city gives the OK for Richards, what’s to stop 20 others from coming in and asking for permission to get other city-owned property for gardening? she explained.

In fact, the city follows policies that have been crafted by its policymakers, the City Council, Fowler said.

One of those policies has created a community gardening program in the city, a program that follows certain procedures.

The city, Fowler noted, has decided that it did not want vacant lots in Oakhill that it is planning to have builders build on tied up with a community garden.

Initially, she said, the city proposed one site off Otis Road for the neighborhood association’s community garden, a site which Richards said had too little direct sunlight. Fowler didn’t disagree.

Richards then decided to put the garden in Poet’s Park, a city-owned triangular space on 12th Avenue SE where the neighborhood association has maintained beds for prairie flowers the last couple years.

He said Tuesday he would have preferred a site a couple blocks away at 12th Avenue and Eighth Street SE with better sun. But he said Poet’s Park will do.

“We’re not trying to feed masses of people,” Richards said. The idea, he said, is to get more people caught up in the gardening bug.

By late Tuesday, Richards was talking about tilling, and City Hall’s Fowler was saying that no one had yet signed on the bottom line.

If the garden goes ahead – it sounds like that is likely – Richards said he will be a little disappointed and will move on from there.

“There are battles worth fighting,” he said, adding that fighting City Hall about being denied a first choice for a garden spot isn’t one of those battles.

Richards pointed to an earlier battle in the last year that proved successful. In that instance, the city finally required Penford Products to stop running a steady stream of semi-trailer trucks down Third Street SE in the heart of Oakhill and New Bohemia simply to have them park at the old Sinclair site to wait to unload corn back across the river at the Penford plant.

Richards, the neighborhood association and New Bohemia just two weeks ago also saw the City Council move ahead with a stalled plan to renovate Third Street SE between Eighth and 14th avenues SE. The section of street is the heart of the New Bohemia arts and cultural district.

But battles over that remain.

The New Bohemia group backs a modern street design, while some of the property owners want a more historic approach. And just two weeks ago, the council decided that it expected property owners to contribute to the cost of the project. When initially conceived several years ago, the Third Street SE renovation was going to be paid for by the city as part of the city’s plan to create a special arts district.


Vision for Sinclair site is mixed use with a lot of housing, discussion of New Bohemia reveals

In City Hall, New Bohemia, Sinclair site, Tom Podzimek on April 17, 2008 at 8:55 pm

This week the City Council got behind the renovation of Third Street SE between Eighth and 14th avenues SE, the heart of the New Bohemia area and the center of a hoped-for arts and cultural district.

The entire street will be torn up, transformed from a 48-foot-wide street to a 43-foot one, with wider sidewalks and other amenities.

In agreeing to the street renovation, city staff and the City Council set aside their reservations of 18 months ago about converting what is an arterial street and sole access into the former Sinclair redevelopment site into a less-wide avenue in an arts district.

 In the discussion this week, John Bender, president of the engineering firm, Ament Inc., noted that 4,000 vehicles a day use this stretch of Third Street SE, and by 2040, as many as 13,500 could be using the street.

Any time traffic counts exceed 10,000 vehicles a day, thoughts turn from two-lane streets to four-lane ones, Bender noted. But the thought is that a two-lane street will continue to work even with the projected traffic counts.

In passing, Bender noted that the current city thinking on the 30-acre Sinclair meatpacking site is that it will be developed mostly as a residential site. He referred to comments made by Sam Shea, the city’s long-range planning coordinator.

On Thursday, Shea said the idea is that the Sinclair site will likely be a mixed-use development of residential with some commercial and maybe even some retail. It would be a place where people live, work and play, he said.

Shea said projected traffic counts in 2040, if they came to pass, likely would make a two-lane Third Street SE in New Bohemia a “pretty busy street” at times. An arts district might not mind some traffic, he added.

At the same time, he noted that the future could bring other traffic changes, including another access into the Sinclair site.

But that is in the future.

Giant debate looms before the construction crews hit Third Street SE in New Bohemia, which is a piece of the Oak Hill Neighborhood.

Firstly, there is a dispute over design. New Bohemia advocates favor a modern street design, while some of the property owners favor of historic look like that in Czech Village across the Cedar River.

The city intends to bring on a facilitator to find some common ground.

Additionally, property owners now apparently will be required to contribute to the cost of the project, which was put at $3.4 million a few years ago.

The earlier Third Street SE plan, which was part of the failed Cedar Bend/Vision Iowa project, had the city paying for the cost. The argument had been that the historical and arts and cultural center would become a regional tourist draw.

That notion, though, was before the city lost its state Vision Iowa money for the project, before the city changed its form of government, before it hired a city manager and before it elected its current City Council.

This council this week said it wanted to see property owners along the street contribute to an investment that surely will make their properties more valuable.

Council member Tom Podzimek said he, too, would love to see government spending out on his street, Maplewood Drive NE, if he didn’t have to contribute.


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.