Will Knutson Building meet same fate as historic Sinclair smokestack?
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS – As it currently sits, Tim Blumer agrees with the people who view the Knutson Metal Co., building as an eyesore.
But the plan in place by Blumer, of KHB Redevelopment Group, would turn the eyesore into an elegant attraction.
KHB offered a redevelopment bid to the city of Cedar Rapids for the property, one of the oldest commercial buildings on the west side of Cedar Rapids, at 525 Valor Way SW.
City staff, however, were poised to recommend that the building, a former condensed milk factory built in 1887, be demolished.
The city’s Historic Preservation Commission intervened, asking that the city first hire a structural engineer to look at the building. That process is under way, but if the past is any indication, could simply pave the way for the building’s demise.
In 2010, the City Council voted to hire a structural engineer to assess the integrity of the historic Sinclair plant smokestack in southeast Cedar Rapids, after the Historic Preservation Commission advocated to save the 180-foot-tall structure.
Shortly after a preliminary report showed missing bricks and other signs of decay, however, council members voted to demolish the smokestack.
Blumer knows that the Knutson Building, built in 1887 as a condensed milk factory, is in similar decay. Nothing has been done to preserve the building since the city purchased the site in 2012.
As one of the last remnants of that era of the city’s history, however, he and other proponents have asked that the cost of demolition be put towards redeveloping the building.
“The Knutson Building needs considerable work and investment, but demolition and the building of new facilities do also,” Blumer said, adding that by retaining the existing structure, the time required for occupancy could be shortened, “and a grand part of Cedar Rapids history could be saved.”
KHB expended a considerable amount of time, money and effort on the redevelopment proposal, which featured a mix of commercial and residential uses and a possible option to serve the nearby amphitheatre.
The plan provided several alternatives, including a flood protection proposal developed in concert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
KHB offered to pay the city the appraised value of the building, at $129,121, and anticipated investing $1.5 million in the redevelopment. In return, the firm asked the city to use the $250,000 that would have to be spent on abatement and demolition of the structure toward saving the building.
City staff have since noted that state taxpayer funds are available for demolition, but not for redeveloping buildings.
KHB also proposed that the estimated $708,000 that the city would use on flood protection be used for the project, which would include a levee and flood wall.
City historian, Mark Stoffer Hunter, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission and Save Cedar Rapids Heritage, noted that the building’s architect was Cedar Rapids’ own William A. Fulkerson, who designed many Cedar Rapids schools and the former Dragon Chinese Restaurant in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Hunter said the original Board of Directors of the Condensed Milk Factory included such Cedar Rapids luminaries as Capt. Stephen Dows, H. B. Soutter and Col. William G. Dows.
Blumer said he was caught off-guard when he saw the recommendation for demolition on last month’s City Council agenda. That recommendation is now on hold, as a committee seeks to hire an engineer to assess the structural integrity of the building.
He and others hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, with the Knutson Building meeting the same fate as the Sinclair smokestack.
“We believe that the historic value of the Knutson Building is irreplaceable in a city that lost so much in the flood of 2008,” Blumer said. “It isn’t possible to replace a building like the Knutson with a new structure.”