Local developers see revised plans for a $ 71 million entertainment hub as the “recipe” for success


Renderings of a planned $ 71 million mixed-use development featuring a Big Grove Brewery, Pickle Palace Bar and Grill with recreation room and other uses by local developers under 1st and 1st West LLC. (Courtesy of the City of Cedar Rapids)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Local developers behind a $ 71 million conversion of long-vacant urban land announced Tuesday a collaboration with the city leading to a “destination” of a Big Grove brewery, outdoor recreation room, and possibly a hotel and restaurant will lead an entertainment center.

Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously approved a term sheet outlining the scope of the Kingston Landing project on First Street and First Avenue W – a blank slate to be transformed into a hub of activity that will encompass downtown, Kingston Village and eventually connects the recreational facilities of the Cedar River. Two of the nine council members were absent from the vote.

Nate Kaeding, Business Development Director at Build to Suit and one of the developers who formed 1st and 1st LLC to pursue this project, said the team took to heart that the city is seeking mixed-use quality of life development as well as one regional attraction.

“We really see this as a great public-private partnership and given the notoriety and importance of this property, we don’t take it lightly and have put a lot of work and thought into what is best for this property,” said Kaeding.

Since the project was first submitted to the council for examination in 2019 and self-elected officials gave the city employees the green light to negotiate a term sheet in June 2020, the layout of the site plans has changed.

The plans now envisage an approximately 1.25 hectare “Central Park” element to improve the use of green spaces and create a pedestrian zone. Parking would also be in a single ramp, a separate urban project estimated at $ 15-20 million.

Interim economic development manager Caleb Mason said the city plans to use part of its award through the state’s competitive Reinvestment District program on these items. The Iowa Economic Development Authority tentatively awarded $ 9 million to Cedar Rapids in June of the city’s original $ 39.5 million application, although final awards will be decided next year.

When the city submitted the final application, Mason said he expected growth based on the revised plan with a denser Kingston Landing project and more retail space.

Despite the lower-than-expected preliminary award, developer Joe Ahmann, owner of Ahmann Design of Hiawatha, told The Gazette that the group was confident based on projected revenue from the development.

“We feel pretty strong with our project and the funding (the city) has provided that hopefully the city can direct it for public use with development around Kingston Landing,” said Ahmann.

Overall, the buildings in this development will have improved connectivity with the square, and rooftops will become an active space with dining, drinking, and relaxing options – with views of downtown and the Cedar River. City officials and builders hope this aesthetic, along with the distinctive “Kingston Landing” signs on some buildings, will attract the attention of passing tourists on Interstate 380.

The city will reimburse 85 percent of the tax increases generated for each respective building for 20 years. A final development agreement will be presented to the Council in autumn.

Construction will come in phases, starting in 2022 with the Big Grove Brewery and a bar and grill called Pickle Palace that has space for pickleball as well as other outdoor games and events.

“They would start tomorrow when we were ready,” Ahmann said of the Pickle Palace team, “so they are eager to get the project off the ground as it is quite large.”

In the second phase, predominantly mixed-use areas and residential units as well as a potential “boutique” hotel with around 100 rooms are to be created.

The third and final phase, with expected completion in December 2030, would bring a planned entertainment center that could be converted into mixed-use office or hotel space and additional mixed-use buildings.

Developer Matt Swift, Big Grove’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said one of the coolest aspects of the project is that it’s all connected.

“The more our customers, our guests interact with the local area and the surrounding tenants, the more I think it becomes a big deal – not just in Kingston Landing but in the Kingston Landing area as well,” said Swift.

The page was left blank for a long time because it was once supposed to be occupied by a casino. After state regulators rejected casino proposals in 2014 and 2017, Cedar Rapids looked for other uses for the land.

Councilor Ann Poe recalled returning to Cedar Rapids with several council bluffs city officials after the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted against granting the city a gambling license.

The group drove around the site, Poe remembered, and they said, “’Just wait – we’re going to do something great on this site. It may not be a casino, but it will be great. ‘ That was always our hope and our expectation. “

The revised plans for Kingston Landing “exceeded expectations,” said Poe, chairman of the council’s development committee.

Councilor Dale Todd said, “People are moving to town now, and they’re moving to town for projects like this.” He cited the 2020 census data, which shows that Cedar Rapids has grown its population by 9 percent over the past decade – an additional 11,384 residents.

If it were up to Councilor Marty Hoeger, developers could start tomorrow, he said.

“I think this is a true tribute to two high-quality developers who have probably competed against each other on different projects over the years, who saw the vision of this corner and decided to work together or compete against each other because it’s better.” Project for working together, ”said Hoeger.

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