Kingston Village comes alive: West-side transforming, with $51M in investment

B.A. Morelli The Gazette
Jun 6, 2017 at 1:47 pm
CEDAR RAPIDS — Residents moved into new condos and apartments last week while construction workers wired electricity in other-still-available spaces in the Metropolitan, a six-story, upscale housing complex that’s the latest addition to Cedar Rapids’ newest neighborhood, Kingston Village, just across the Cedar River from downtown.

The Metropolitan is part of a drastic transformation in an area filled with vacant spaces just five years ago that has seen $57 million invested in more than a dozen developments since 2013. Much more stands on deck.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What do we build here?’ We said, ‘Let’s build something where every unit has a fantastic view,’ ” recalled developer Jim Hobart, of Hobart Historic Restoration.

Elected officials designated the area — generally bounded by the Cedar River on the east, Interstate 380 and First Avenue West on the north, Sixth Street on the west and Eighth Avenue SW to the south — as Kingston Village four years ago this month.

The name recognizes the area’s incorporation as the town of Kingston in 1852 before annexation into Cedar Rapids in 1871.

The name was intended to brand the area, similar to how the New Bohemia District has taken hold for the urban district just south of downtown Cedar Rapids or how the East Village developed in Des Moines.

A diverse urban housing mix was seen as the core of the new neighborhood, while buoyed by recreational amenities and trails along the river and preserved historic elements, such as old retail buildings along Third Avenue SW. A 2012 Vision Cedar Rapids report stated the area could see “more dramatic transformation than any other flood recovery area in Cedar Rapids” and within a decade become “one of the most dynamically changed neighborhoods in the region.”

That vision is coming to life, officials from the public and private sector say.

“It’s an awesome place to be,” said Clint Twedt-Ball, founder and executive director Matthew 25, a neighborhood revitalization organization that restored the old Kingston building, 201 Third Ave. SW, for its headquarters.

”So much is happening over here compared to what it used to be,” he said. “This was really a struggling area with bail bonds and tattoo parlors, and then the flood hit. A lot of viable businesses left. The buildings sat vacant for years. … Now to see the interest that is here, it just blows you away.”

Nina Brundell, owner of Kieck’s uniform apparel, 223 Third Ave. SW, added, “It’s definitely building up and increasing, especially with having more housing in the area.”

Andrea Lewis, 31, said it was convenience that drew her to the Metropolitan.

She downsized from a house to an apartment and likes being able to cross the Third Avenue Bridge to work at United Fire Group. She can catch a show at the McGrath Amphitheatre from her balcony, cross the street to the trail system or walk four minutes to the gym. Plus people her age are around.

“When it’s nice out, I don’t have to use a car,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot of potential right here.”

Throughout her life in Cedar Rapids, she said, the west side never had much of a draw, so it was appealing to see new buildings go up so close to the downtown.

The 41-unit, $11 million Metropolitan is among the dozen projects responsible for 185 new housing units in Kingston since 2013. Units run the gamut of price points from lower-cost single family homes and townhomes, 68 “affordable” apartments, $300,000 and $400,000 condos and $600,000 penthouses with a view of the city’s skyline and the river.

The $57 million in overall investment includes $51 million from the private sector and $6 million from public subsidies in the form of tax breaks.

A Cedar Rapids City Assessor’s report, roughly covering the boundaries of Kingston Village, shows assessed value of the area surged to $46 million as of Jan. 1, 2017. It was $24.5 million in 2008 and $14 million in 2013.

The $8 million McGrath Amphitheatre, which opened in 2013, and the cleanup of park space and trails along the river, have created a new energy, a city official said.

“What comes to mind is there is just a more intense sense of vibrancy,” said Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director. “Before we had buildings, but we didn’t see people. There was not a lot of activity. That, to me, has been the biggest change. We just see a lot more people around the area.”

Signs of new businesses are starting to appear, and that should expand as housing fills in, she said.

Numerous projects hang in the horizon.

Once pegged for demolition, the Hobarts are in process of restoring the Knutson Building, 525 Valor Way SW, a dilapidated structure built in 1887 as a condensed milk factory. The Hobarts took possession from the city last month and plan to convert the space into apartments by the end of the year. The Knutson should be similar to the Mott Building, an adjacent structure along the river restored by the Hobarts in 2016.

No decision has been reached on whether the ground floor of the Knutson will have a concession stand and restrooms for the adjacent amphitheater.

Other proposals include a business strip potentially housing a brewery at 218 Fourth Ave. SW; Kingston Family Apartments, with low-income units at Seventh Avenue and Third Street SW; and another apartment building between the Mott and Knutson.

City-owned land immediately south of the Metropolitan will be offered for sale next month. The replacement of the Eighth Avenue Bridge by 2022 and a new pump station in Sunner Park could open additional recreation and commercial opportunities, city officials have said.

Developer Fred Timko, who restored the Peoples Savings Bank building and built Kingston Commons, said the elephant in the room for the area is what happens to eight acres of land at the north edge of Kingston that has been set aside for a casino.

“That is probably the best piece of property in Cedar Rapids,” Timko said. “I still would cheer for the original casino plan. I think the city is of a mind if a casino doesn’t go there, they want some pretty outstanding project there. Whatever goes there is going to be a real driver for the area.”
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