Mixed-Use Development Slated For 1st Avenue in the Uptown District

Rebuilding Our Urban Core Beyond Downtown

Ben Kaplan
Mar 27, 2018 · 4 min read
The site plan for H and V Developments proposed mixe- use building at 1st Ave and 14th St SE.

New development is headed to the heart of Cedar Rapids Uptown District along 1st Avenue. H and V Development LLC is proposing a three story mixed-use building on the 1400 block of 1st Ave SE, called College Commons.

On March 27, 2018 the Cedar Rapids City Council will consider a property tax break towards proposed new development on the corner of 1st Ave and 14th St NE. From the City Council Agenda for March 27 (PDF Link):

The Resolution authorizes City participation in the proposed 3-story, mixed-use building at the corner of 1st Avenue NE & 14th Street NE as proposed by H and V Development, LLC, as represented by Brent Votroubek.

The $6.4 million dollar project will have ground floor retail, and two floors of market rate apartments. The building will have sixteen total apartments.

There’s a lot to unpack with this specific development. H and V worked closely with the city to come up with this site plan. The site is currently developed, housing two office buildings, a small retail building, and a fourplex. At least two of those buildings — the small retail storefront and the fourplex — likely contain architectural and historical value. The fourplex is particularly special, and the developer has said they would be willing to see the fourplex moved, rather than demolished.

How the building is situated on the site is worth discussing in detail. Two of the tenants are confirmed, a Jimmy Johns and a Scooter’s Coffee. Both have drive thru’s. Still, the building does directly abut the sidewalk, and all the businesses and an entrance to the apartments will face the 1st Avenue. The building will be three stories tall, the bare minimum for reasonable development anywhere along 1st Avenue below 19th Street. There are only 24 parking spots, when our current outdated zoning laws say a building of this density should have a preposterously massive 75. There are no curb cuts onto first avenue, parking is accessible only from side streets.

Is this site plan perfect urbanism? No. However, if this is going to be our baseline moving forward this is a gigantic leap forward for our city. There are big positives here; a reasonable amount of parking, real density, and a direct relationship with the street. This should set a new minimum standard for core development. Urbanist principles are at work here, and this building and site plan treats people on foot equally to people who drive.

But, and I wish there wasn’t a but, look at the renderings.

The view of College Commons from 1st Avenue E.
The alley view of College Commons.

Urbanism is not about architecture. Urbanism is about how a place functions. And heaven knows how subjective what makes a pretty building can be. For example, I love brutalism, but I’m smart enough to know that it’s an acquired taste. But.

This building is ugly. And it replaces three buildings that aren’t ugly (and, frankly, one that is even uglier).

In a couple hours the city will vote to extend a tax credit to this building. They absolutely should. But, if we’re going to give up a million bucks in city revenue for this thing, if it’s going to be a test of a whole bunch of ideas about core district development, then design matters. There are so many ways to do a three story infill development right. We can do that here too.

This can be a catalyst project for the Uptown District. A symbol of reinvestment and renewal for an area of our city most people are content to speed through and never think about it. It should look like it.

Corridor Urbanism

What’s happening in Iowa’s 380 corridor when it comes to urbanism and urban planning?

Ben Kaplan

Written by

Corridor Urbanism

What’s happening in Iowa’s 380 corridor when it comes to urbanism and urban planning?

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade