Concerns surround final attempt to save Knutson Building
Mar 2016

Concerns surround final attempt to save Knutson Building

The riverfront Knutson Building, one of the city's oldest commercial structures, will be discussed at an informational meeting, July 29, 2014, at Cedar Rapids City Hall. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
The riverfront Knutson Building, one of the oldest commercial structures in Cedar Rapids, is being given one final chance at redevelopment. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage

CEDAR RAPIDS – A building on Iowa’s “most endangered” list is being given one last chance for redevelopment, but potential developers worry that allowing a range of bidding options will give an unfair advantage to builders who don’t want to preserve the whole structure.

The Knutson Building, built in 1887, is one of the oldest commercial buildings on the west side of Cedar Rapids and is listed on Preservation Iowa’s most endangered properties of 2016.

The City Council voted tonight to solicit one more round of bids in lieu of demolishing the historic building, but to allow proposals to include saving some of the facade up to full restoration of the entire building.

That concerns B.J. Hobart of Hobart Historic Restoration, whose company has proposed spending more than $3 million on the building’s restoration.

“If you broaden the scope to that extent, you’re not going to get ‘apples to apples’ (comparisons) on the bid,” she said after the meeting.  “I don’t know how they’re going to compare that fairly.”

Bob Grafton, a member of Save CR Heritage and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, noted the same in addressing the City Council.

“It pits the bidders who would work to save the entire structure vs. those who will save a few bricks for a bench,” he said.

The Historic Preservation Commission unanimously recommended earlier this month to allow another round of bids, but for the full structure. City staff members went against that recommendation and told the council that allowing a broader scope with potentially a partial structure is the better approach.

Located along the Cedar River at 525 Valor Way SW, the former condensed milk factory was flooded in 2008 and purchased by the city in 2012.

Since then, little has been done to secure the building, but the City Council voted last year to spend $167,500 for stabilization. No firms would bid on the project, however, because of asbestos inside the structure.

“It’s a catch-22 with the asbestos,” said Tim Oberbroeckling, another member of the Historic Preservation Commission who spoke at the meeting. “I realize we can’t save everything, but this one is a diamond in the rough. It’s a gem.”

Jim Hobart, also of Hobart Historic Restoration, cited the building’s arched windows and other architectural features that make it unique and worth saving in its entirety.

Hobart Historic Restoration is readying to open the Mott Building, which neighbors the Knutson Building in Cedar Rapids, in May. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Hobart Historic Restoration is readying to open the Mott Building, which neighbors the Knutson Building along the Cedar River, in May 2016. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Hobart purchased the neighboring Mott Building from Linn County and is readying to open the historic building in May with 16 residential units on the upper two floors and commercial on the first level.

Fred Timko, of Kingston Square Associates, which represents stakeholders in the Kingston Village area of Cedar Rapids, said the group supports another attempt to save the Knutson Building, but “not an arbitrary part of the facade.”

Some of the council members were hesitant to support another round of proposals – notably Justin Shields, who previously has voted against efforts to save the building – but even he agreed with the rest of the council to give it one more try.

Already, the building has had two rounds of proposals, but the City Council rejected both due to requests for city participation in partial funding.

Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, said the Knutson Building deserves another chance for private redevelopment.

“Sometimes we have buildings that are more important than real estate transactions,” she told the City Council, “and this is one of those buildings.”


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