Historic Smulekoff’s Building Opens for Bids in Downtown Cedar Rapids
CEDAR RAPIDS — Known as a downtown institution, the Smulekoff’s building will change hands under city plans, but it won’t be the first time the site has been under different ownership.
The City Council agreed at its meeting Tuesday to invite competitive proposals for the city-owned property, at 97 Third Ave. SE.
Already, an informational session has been set for 3 p.m. Monday, March 2, for anyone interested in redeveloping the five-story building, along the Cedar River.
The meeting will be in the lower-level training room of City Hall, 101 First St. SE. An overview of the proposal process, timeline and proposal criteria will be reviewed, with a walk-through of the property immediately after the meeting.
Members of the Historic Preservation Commission asked if those developers could also be made aware of another city property that is for sale. Sealed bids of any amount will be opened April 10 for 115 Second St. SW, with the provision that the house be moved.
Smulekoff’s final day of business was Nov. 28, 2014. The city purchased the building, which reopened after flooding in 2008, as part of the voluntary acquisition process.
While Smulekoff’s Home Store had been downtown since 1889 — an incredible 125-year run — the store was previously at two different sites.
Smulekoff’s began on May’s Island before moving to 111 Third Ave. SW, next to the Louis Sullivan-designed Peoples Bank, said Cedar Rapids historian, Mark Stoffer Hunter, a member of Save CR Heritage.
Stoffer Hunter said the building now known as Smulekoff’s was built in 1902 as an early wholesale/warehouse structure that was originally occupied by two wholesale companies: Warfield Pratt Howell Wholesale Grocery and the Churchill Wholesale Drug Company.
Each company had a five-story section separated by a brick fire wall, with Warfield in the “north” half of the structure, fronting Third Avenue SE, and Churchill in the “south” half. At the time, he said, the street level exterior featured brick arches.
The building was converted to a furniture store called Rosenbaum’s in the mid-1920s, after the wholesale companies relocated in Cedar Rapids and that side of Third Avenue SE became more retail-focused, Stoffer Hunter noted.
Rosenbaum’s was bought out by Smulekoff’s Furniture Store in 1940 and Smulekoff’s moved into the building in 1941 and 1942.
Stoffer Hunter said Smulekoff’s extensively remodeled the street-level exterior, replacing brick arches and walls with large glass display windows.
“The four-story tall vertical exterior sign was attached to the Third Avenue side of structure at this time, as well,” he said, adding that the sign covered four original windows on the upper floors.
Until the 1970s, a railroad track spur was located between the rear of the building and the river to load and unload stock. In 1972, Smulekoff’s demolished four old warehouse structures adjacent to the building and built a new two-story addition, with a parking lot that opened in 1973.
“Significant here is that the Smulekoff building was one of the first two large-size structures built for the Wholesale Warehouse District,” Stoffer Hunter said. That area was bounded by Third Avenue SE, the Cedar River, 10th Avenue SE and Fifth Street SE, to Fifth Avenue SE.
He noted that the first major structure built in that district was the Hach Building, 401 First St. SE, in 1899. Other early wholesale structures included the Kubias Building, 311 Third Ave. SE, also built in 1902; the Fawcett Building, 117-119 Third Ave. SE, built in 1905, and now used by Orchestra Iowa; and the old Wilcox Building, 213-215 Third Ave. SE, built in 1901, which was Sanford’s store from the mid-1930s to early 1980s and was demolished in 1988.
The Warehouse/Wholesale District, which also included railroad freight stations and small manufacturing, such as an ice cream factory and a bakery, replaced the oldest Bohemian neighborhood of Cedar Rapids, except for Sokol Hall on Third St. SE, Stoffer Hunter said.
Proposals for the Smulekoff’s redevelopment are due by 11 a.m. April 27, 2015, to the Community Development department on the second floor of City Hall.
Caleb Mason, Cedar Rapids housing redevelopment analyst, told the council the developer will have to pay the fair market value of the building, with the funds returned to the Community Development Block Grant program.
The city paid $4.7 million for the 100,000-square-foot building in December. According to the Cedar Rapids City Assessor, the property was assessed at nearly $2.4 million in 2014.
Mason said the $4.7 million was the pre-flood value, and that developers can use the $2.4 million as an estimate of the fair market value, which will be determined once the development terms are negotiated.
The building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, which could offer financial incentives in the form of historic tax credits for nearly half of the rehabilitation costs.
Mason told the council that the developer must meet several objectives, including offering a financially viable plan; incorporating market-rate housing; allowing for construction and ongoing maintenance of the city’s flood control system and retaining the building’s historic character.
The City Council will consider proposals at its May 12 meeting.
Council Member Monica Vernon voiced her support in moving quickly on a sale and for the building to be repurposed.
“The longer you let an older building sit, the more possibility for problems,” she said. “I think we want to reuse it and we know that getting housing into downtown is paramount. It adds to our vitality.”