Corridor Urbanism
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Corridor Urbanism

Grading the Casino Site Proposals

Spoiler: the “winner” gets a C-

It looks like Cedar Rapids isn’t getting a casino on the westside of the Cedar River in Kingston Village. After being shot down twice in four years by the state gaming commission for a casino license, the city of Cedar Rapids opened up eight acres of city owned land straddling 1st Ave W and adjacent to the Cedar River to new proposals. Two were submitted by the Friday, February 28 deadline. I don’t feel like repeating Brian Morelli, so check out his article to learn more about both proposals. Unfortunately, from an urbanist perspective both leave a lot to be desired. Let’s go over them, McMansion Hell style.

1st and 1st West

Some Details in Case You Didn’t Read the Linked Article: 1st and 1st West LLC, is a group of local developers, engineering companies, and architects, including some names who have already built big projects in Kingston Village, Downtown, and New Bohemia.

What’s notable about this proposal is how feature packed it is. 1st and 1st West LLC’s proposal includes (take a deep breath) a Spare Time Entertainment complex, 12–14 screen movie theater, ice rink, Big Grove Brewery, dog park, and boutique hotel. We’ve also got the requisite retail, office, and apartments.

The other notable thing about this proposal, clearly the people who put it together have never once walked or biked anywhere a day in their adult life. This will become clear shortly.

Overall Urbanism Grade: C-

There are many plusses for the Cedar Rapids community included in the 1st and 1st West LLC proposal. A downtown dog park would be amazing. So would a downtown movie theater. I even like where they snuck in a massive parking garage! Unfortunately, beyond realizing that buildings should come up to the sidewalk, there’s no evidence 1st and 1st West LLC wants to make a walkable addition to our core neighborhoods. The sidewalks are woefully inadequate, there’s an overabundance of surface parking, and 1st Avenue would be a death trap. There’s not one piece of bike infrastructure to be seen either, in an area of town where during the summer months it’s harder to find a place to park your bike than your car.

I cannot stress enough how poor the urban design for 1st Avenue W is in this proposal.

Unless you a young, or in charge of a young person, do not ride your bike on the sidewalk. This is such an insane thing to add to a rendering. I feel like I’m being punked.

This is egregiously terrible. Not the buildings, which mostly I actually like and show how architects are responding to the rise of developer modernism and adapting it to be more pleasant and human. Those are fine. But this intersection is a death trap, and doesn’t belong in any city, anywhere. Also, why are the sidewalks so narrow? Could 1st and 1st West not conceive of an entire family going to see a movie all at once?

Hoo boy, this is bad isn’t it. Long blank walls are walkability killers. Once again, the sidewalks are pathetically narrow. Also there’s completely inadequate space for street trees. The stretch of 1st Avenue you see here along the blank wall will be a boiling heatsink for half the year. What a deeply unpleasant place to be.

Whoever designed this thing hates pedestrians and cyclists. Nice buildings though. Also, enjoy getting your shoes muddy in that useless green strip between the sidewalk and parking.

Seriously though? How do you get into Big Grove? Also can you only drive into that building on the right?

Flaherty and Collins Properties

Some Details in Case You Didn’t Read the Linked Article: Flaherty and Collins Properties is an Indianopolis based real-estate developer, with a substantial portfolio, not that you can tell from this proposal. This proposal is less ambitious in scope (even accounting for the difference in, uh, presentation style) than 1st and 1st West, and yet is asking for $18.2 million in public money. 1st and 1st West did not specify how much public money they would be seeking.

Flaherty and Collins envisions a large L-shaped mixed-use building on the corner of 1st and 1st west with apartments and retail. Notably these apartments would include a number of amenities missing from most downtown housing, including a game room, heated pool, and club room. There would be more apartments across 1st Avenue, and a public plaza facing the Veterans Memorial Building.

Overall Urbanism Grade: Incomplete… so F?

There’s simply not enough information in the Flaherty and Collins proposal to know how if this project would be good walkable urbanism.

Let’s take a closer look at the sparse site plans included in this proposal. Computer enhance:

This is a fine, rational, way to lay out this site. The proposal doesn’t include enough detail to know how well the street level urban design would be, but Flaherty and Collins has done some pretty impressive projects on that front (and some less than stellar work too).

This proposal tucks a parking garage between the I-380 and street facing buildings. Which is good.

What’s Next

I’m just going to block quote Morelli about this:

A steering committee of local business people, architects, public officials, lenders and others is expected to review and score the applications over the next few weeks and make a recommendation. The Cedar Rapids City Council would choose one of the projects, likely in April, and direct city staff to negotiate financial incentives and other details.

The man knows how to write good news copy.

There are 14 members on the steering committee, five are city staff, and nine are community members.

Ann Poe — At-Large City Councilwoman

Doug Neumann — Executive Director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance

Fred Timko — President of Point Builders, and a major developer in Kingston Village.

Kelly Lind-Daufeldt — Vice President of Commercial Real Estate at US Bank

Kyle Skogman — President and CEO of Skogman Homes

Lisa Peloquin — Commercial Services Realtor at Skogman Realty

Patrick Alvord — Principle at Confluence, and a licensed architect and landscape architect.

Scott Overland — District 2 City Councilman

Tom Aller — Retired, a former executive at Alliant Energy, amongst a long list of other accolades. There’s a street named after him.

City Staff: Jasmine Almoayyed, Caleb Mason, Jennifer Pratt, Ken DeKeyser, Lauren Freeman

Almoayyed, Mason, and Pratt are all in the city of Cedar Rapids Economic Development department. Ken DeKeyser is the Developer Services Manager, a position that works as a liason between developers and government. Lauren Freeman is a Community Development Program Coordinator for Cedar Rapids.

Unfortunately this list is long on economic development and business but short on urban planning and sustainability. It’s also long on people who like development incentives like TIF and tax abatements.

Final Verdict

This part is going to be annoying.

Buildings, sidewalks, and streets last for a long time. It’s important that we get the basics of urban design right when we develop our community. A lot of the buildings downtown are 40, 50, or even 100 years old. The original businesses — like Armstrong’s or Smulekoff’s for example — are gone, but the buildings have been adapted to house new businessees or apartments. So I don’t get too excited about long lists of promised businesses and features in a new development. Good urbanism withstands the test of time — it is timeless. We should demand that major investments in our community be built in a way that they’re not just good investments for a few people’s pocketbooks in the short-term, but good long term invests in our community. Unfortunately both of these proposals leave me uncertain of how well they’ll work when I’m 50, or 70, or 90.



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