City to consider future of one of Cedar Rapids’ oldest buildings
CEDAR RAPIDS — One of the oldest structures in Cedar Rapids, the Knutson Building along the city’s riverfront has evolved since 1887, from a condensed milk factory to a woodworking plant for gunstocks, to the Warehouse bar nearly a century later, haunted house and scrap metal business.
Now owned by the city, supporters hope the building’s evolution will continue, even as discussion centers around the high costs related to flood protection at the site.
“It’s really unique architecturally,” Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter said, citing the building’s brick and heavy timber construction, with decorative, ornate iron columns. “This is a pretty rare gem.”
Stoffer Hunter, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and Save Cedar Rapids Heritage, noted that few buildings from the era survive in Cedar Rapids. With a previous address of 525 H St. SW, the street near the Cedar Rapids Police Station was recently renamed Valor Way.
Jennifer Pratt, assistant director of the city’s Community Development Department, told the City Council’s Development Committee that options are being considered to move or elevate the building, but those come at a high cost.
The building is too close to the Cedar River for a levee to be used for flood control, she said during a meeting this week. A flood wall would need to be up to 14-feet-tall and would impact the view of the river, she added, with a price tag of nearly $600,000.
Pratt said a proposal from KHB Redevelopment Group of Cedar Rapids cited a cost to move the building a short distance at $750,000 to $1 million.
That move would locate the structure next to the nearby Mott Building, owned by Linn County. The Mott Building, built in 1900 as Iowa Windmill & Pump Co., a windmill supply company, sits at a higher elevation, she noted.
Pratt asked the Historic Preservation Commission if a third option — elevating the 15,936-square-foot warehouse perhaps as high as 15 feet — would affect its historic integrity.
Stoffer Hunter said he didn’t think raising the Knutson Building would affect the integrity, but added that the three-story structure didn’t sustain a substantial amount of flooding during the city’s historic flood of 2008, perhaps only into the first floor.
Pratt said city staff will return with more information to the Development Committee at its next meeting on May 21, after which the issue could potentially go to the full City Council.
“None of these options are cheap,” she said.
Acquiring the Knutson property in itself was an expensive proposition.
In 2012, the city spent $1.5 million to purchase the Knutson Metal Co. property at 525 and 533 H St. SW, then assessed at $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 the expense.
Pratt noted that the city intended to tie the use of the property to the new amphitheater located nearby along the riverfront, perhaps for a ticket box office or similar purpose.
Elevating the building would make that use difficult in complying with ADA standards and result in access issues, she said.
Stoffer Hunter said he hopes the city won’t add demolition to the options for the building.
Operating as a condensed milk factory for several years in the late 1800s, the building became American Manufacturing Co., a woodworking company specializing in gunstocks, as well as furniture and other items, Stoffer Hunter said. A railroad spur at the time connected the site to Czech Village along 16th Avenue SW.
“This is one of two of the oldest industrial buildings on the west side,” he said. “It’s the oldest commercial building in Kingston that still stands.”