The story behind the upcoming demolition of A&W in Cedar Rapids
The developer who hoped to save the former Ellis Boulevard A&W from the wrecking ball is telling his side of the story.
Council members voted this week to have the iconic building demolished. The city’s Historic Preservation Commission has the demolition permit on its agenda for Thursday, June 27, 2013. That meeting will be at the Police Substation, 1501 First St. SE, at 4:30 p.m.
Developer Baron Stark said he had secured financing for the project, but terms of the financing agreement expired after six months, a time period during which Stark said the city “dragged its feet” to work on needed approvals for the development. That included a required letter of map amendment to make a flood map revision as the majority of the property is just outside the 100-year flood plain.
“We put thousands of dollars into this project already,” Stark said. “It’s pretty disheartening.”
Like most buildings in the Time Check neighborhood, the A&W, 1132 Ellis Blvd. NW, was swamped with floodwaters from the Cedar River in 2008, just before a 30th anniversary of ownership celebration was planned for the business, built in 1962.
The former owner chose not to rebuild and the city had scheduled the site for demolition until supporters rallied around the landmark building.
The City Council pulled the site from the demolition list in September 2011. Stark Real Estate Holdings, which purchased several properties in Czech Village after the flood, offered the only redevelopment proposal.
Stark said he and Richard Luther of Creative Development Solutions ascertained that the building was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, making it qualified for tax credits to offset rebuilding costs. Stark also worked with A&W to obtain a franchise along with having a tenant’s lease agreement in place.
“We were ready to rock-n-roll,” he said, but after the financing agreement expired, it took time to find a new loan.
In December, the Council Development Committee amended the development agreement to allow an additional two months to secure financing, but according to city staff, Stark was unable to meet the deadline.
Stark said, however, that he was close to reaching a new financing agreement and offered the city $45,000 to use as collateral for demolishing the site in case that financing fell through.
“They didn’t have to stop the agreement,” he said, adding that the building is not a health and safety hazard as some have suggested. Engineers have inspected the property. “The city had no risk. Why didn’t they accept it?”
In the meantime, city staff said another developer had shown interest in building a new project on the site, once the A&W was demolished.
Rebuilding historic buildings is complex, Stark noted, and questioned why the city has put up roadblocks to doing such work, not only on the A&W, but elsewhere in the city. A home in Czech Village was recently demolished, even though the district is on the National Register of Historic Places, Stark said. “It was just a fight the whole time.”
At least 1,088 homes and 93 commercial buildings have been demolished in Cedar Rapids since the 2008 flood.
Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, said the organization had hoped the A&W would be saved.
“We lose properties all the time,” said DeBoom, whose first job was a car-hop at the A&W, a drive-in restaurant. “The A&W was one that was unique in that neighborhood and in the community. There was nothing else like it in Cedar Rapids.”