Deadline looms for Knutson Building development proposals
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
It seems an almost sure-fire way to sabotage a real estate sale.
Six years after the 2008 flood roared through the Knutson Building, water still coats the basement floor; a tree grows from the rooftop on the riverfront side; garbage is strewn throughout and a broken window allows entry for animals, vandals or both.
Still, city leaders say they want to see a buyer come forward for the 1885 building, one of the oldest commercial structures in Cedar Rapids.
With a variety of stipulations, including a costly move or elevation of the building, the city is accepting development proposals for the former scrap metal site, behind the city Police Station at 525 Valor Way SW.
“Right now, I have some hope,” said Sven Leff, the city’s Parks and Recreation director, whose department was placed in charge of the building after it was flooded and purchased by the city. “There is hope that one of these companies can restore it and that nothing is lost and forgotten.”
Leff said although it may appear that the city put little effort into cleaning or securing the building, the grounds were cleared of debris just to make it safe to walk outside. Doors have been locked, but Leff agreed that more could have been done.
“In the year I’ve had the keys, we hadn’t done anything with it,” he said.
Roof repairs and other work on the building would have cost money that the city wasn’t prepared to invest in the site, Leff added.
During an open house for developers this summer, face masks did little to hide the stench emitting from the site. John Riggs, the city’s Flood Recovery Program Manager, Jennifer Pratt, interim director of the Community Development Department, and Leff all said they were unsure if the building had ever been mucked out after the 2008 flood.
At the same time the city is accepting development proposals for the Knutson Building, Linn County is taking proposals for the county-owned Mott Building, next door.
The city plans to build a levee in the area for flood protection. Based on initial plans, city staff said enough space is available for the levee to be built next to the Mott Building, but not the Knutson Building, so the city is requiring the Knutson Building to be moved or elevated.
Some of the developers at this summer’s walk-through took issue with the city’s assertion that not enough space would be available for a levee for the Knutson Building. Still, city staff have said that flood protection plans would require elevating the structure up to 14 feet or relocating the building up to 100 yards away.
The most recent assessed value before the city acquired the building was $129,121, but the city could accept bids of a different price. The deadline for development proposals for the Knutson Building is Sept. 30, 2014.
Linn County’s deadline for proposals for the Mott Building is Nov. 7, 2014.
Built in 1900 as Iowa Wind Mill & Pump Co., the Mott Building took on 3 to 4 feet of flooding on the main level in 2008, said Joi Bergman, Linn County Communications Director.
Bergman noted that the building was being used for storage at the time of the flood. Clean-up included pumping water out of the building and removing all of the contents, she said.
Linn County, which purchased the property in 1995 for $390,000, had the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Next door, the older Knutson Building originally was a condensed milk factory, and has also housed a woodworking plant for gunstocks, the Warehouse bar, and a haunted house as well as the scrap metal business.
“Mothballing” a vacant building, one of the topics raised at the Preserve Iowa Summit, held in Cedar Rapids in August, involves fixing or boarding up broken windows and otherwise protecting structures from the elements.
“Trees growing on the roof and mortar disintegrating under the window sills are just two (issues) that are easy to see,” said Ruth Fox, a Cedar Rapids landscape architect and consultant on historic tax credit projects.
Fox said there are ways to ensure that a building doesn’t fall apart while the owners work on funding for a structure’s rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation can be done in phases, she noted, and if the owner works with the State Historic Preservation Office and National Parks Service on eligible properties, historic tax credits can be applied to recoup some of the investment.
Prospective developers also were waiting on word from Iowa’s Historic Preservation Office on whether or not the Knutson Building might qualify for those tax credits. As of late September, that question remained unanswered.