Proposed Cedar Rapids flood control system puts historic riverfront buildings at risk
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS – Members of Save Cedar Rapids Heritage are concerned that the alignment of the city’s flood protection system could eliminate more historic buildings.
Already, over 1,200 homes and businesses have been demolished in the wake of the 2008 flood in Cedar Rapids, so advocates hope to save what little remains of the city’s historic riverfront properties.
Several Save CR Heritage board members attended the city’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting earlier this month to learn about the flood system alignment.
The board members noted that the current alignment leaves at least two major historic properties at-risk: the Hubbard Ice complex at First Street and K Avenue NW, and the Knutson Building, 525 Valor Way SW.
An upcoming meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, March 23, provides hope for the city-owned Knutson Building. City staff will take interested developers on a building walk-through after the informational session at the McGrath Amphitheatre.
The city reopened the bid process after only one valid bid was made and that developer offered to restore the Knutson Building in place, although requirements called for a costly relocation or elevation of the structure, built in 1887. New bids can include alternatives to those initial requirements.
At this point, the future for Hubbard Ice appears cloudy, but residents are invited to two upcoming meetings to voice their opinions on the alignment of the flood control system. The public open house sessions will be Tuesday, March 31, at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, with one session from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the other, from 4-7 p.m.
City Council member Scott Olson, one of eight owners, said the Hubbard Ice complex is full with more than 20 tenants. Olson noted, however, that the buildings appear to be on the wet side of the flood protection.
“Once that is confirmed, (Olson and the other owners) plan to enter into formal negotiations with the city to sell,” he said. Hubbard Ice has an assessed value of nearly $1.8 million, providing annual property taxes of more than $56,000 to Cedar Rapids.
Under that scenario, those property tax dollars will disappear and the city will spend sales tax dollars to buy out the owners.
The eight owners purchased Hubbard Ice from HJ Heinz, renovated it and then renovated again after the flood at a cost of $1.4 million, most of which was covered by $1.1 million in flood insurance.
Olson said flood insurance premiums for the complex – currently at $12,000 annually – will skyrocket if the building is on the wet side of flood protection “and will cause most if not all tenants to bail, as they know they will eventually be flooded.”
“On the positive side, if we opt to participate in the city buyout program tied to the flood control levee, all the tenants will be eligible for relocation benefits versus going it on their own,” he said. “We are approaching some hard decisions in the next four months, but it appears the options are limited. I assume if the city buys Hubbard, it will be demolished.”
That news comes as a disappointment to City Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter, who hopes an alternative answer can be found, even if the property remains on the wet side of the flood protection.
“Hubbard Ice was designed to hold ice and water,” said Stoffer Hunter, a member of Save CR Heritage and the Historic Preservation Commission. “It has for all these years.”
Hubbard Ice Company was established in 1870 on a site above the dam on the east side of the Cedar River, and moved to the west side in 1901, constructing a series of buildings to store ice harvested from the river.
“By the turn-of-the-century, Hubbard Ice operated 13 ice wagons to supply household and commercial users throughout the city, and in 1915 modernized its operation by the addition of equipment to artificially manufacture ice,” a historical survey of the neighborhood notes. “In addition to its retail operation, Hubbard supplied ice for all of the refrigerated cars operated by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.”
Stoffer Hunter said the original buildings are gone, with the smaller office building of the complex likely built sometime between 1930 and 1935. Warehouses along First Street NW were constructed between 1930 and 1940, while the section along K Avenue NW was built for Searles Dairy in the late 1940s to 1950s.
“That doesn’t make these any less significant,” he said of the buildings, noting that they represent an important part of Cedar Rapids history. “Why destroy a historic landmark if you don’t have to.”
City staff will hold an informational meeting and building walk-through for interested developers at 3 p.m. Monday, March 23, for the Knutson Building, at 525 Valor Way SW. The informational meeting will be at the McGrath Amphitheatre prior to the walk-through. Any questions about the building can be directed to Adam Lindenlaub at (319) 286-5064 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, the next public open house on the city’s flood control system will be Tuesday, March 31, at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, with one session from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the other, from 4-7 p.m. Staff will be available to help answer questions and provide insight on maps, renderings, and photos of the material, which willrepresent a more refined draft of the design. There is no formal presentation; residents may come anytime during the two sessions.