Cinderella story: from Iowa’s most endangered building list to chic housing
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS – If Jim and B.J. Hobart have any response to the naysayers who actively lobbied to tear down the historic Knutson Building, they’re keeping quiet.
Rather, the couple lets their work speak for itself.
Once on Iowa’s list of most endangered buildings, the former scrap metal business known as the Knutson Building has been transformed into The Chelsea, providing chic loft housing near downtown Cedar Rapids.
Exposed brick walls, thick wooden support beams and original ceilings are among the vintage features in the building’s 18 apartments that make each room unique.
“We knew this could be saved,” B.J. Hobart said during an open house Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. “We knew it had historic value for the community.”
Others didn’t feel the same.
Even after a different developer offered a valid proposal to redevelop the 1887 structure – one of the oldest commercial buildings on the west side of Cedar Rapids – city staff recommended demolition.
The city purchased the Knutson Metal Co. property in 2012 for $1.5 million, far more than its assessed value of $98,891, according to the City Assessor’s website.
At the time, City Council members cited the owner closing his scrap metal business as part of that expense and the city also wanted to assist with cleanup of the area adjacent to the newly constructed amphitheatre.
After the 2008 flood, which inundated the riverfront building, nothing was done to stabilize the structure. Broken windows, a leaky roof and other issues went unrepaired.
Lobbying from preservation advocates finally resulted in the city giving developers one more chance. In July 2016, the City Council chose Hobart Historic Restoration’s plan to renovate the building as housing.
Hobart had also renovated the nearby Mott Building as housing, after purchasing that historic property from Linn County.
B.J. Hobart said The Chelsea – a name she chose because she liked it – came in under budget and the building is structurally sound.
Built as a condensed milk factory, the building also has housed a woodworking plant for gunstocks, the Warehouse bar, and a haunted house, in addition to the scrap metal business.
The Hobarts said 12 of the 18 units, ranging from $850 for a studio apartment to $1,750 for a two-bed, two-bath unit, were leased within a few weeks of opening. With three to four showings daily, the rest will go quickly, they predicted.
Save CR Heritage has been raising awareness of at-risk historic properties in Cedar Rapids since 2012. Help continue this important educational and advocacy work by donating here. We can’t do it without you!