Permanent Brakes on Automobile Row Historic District
CEDAR RAPIDS – Medical district representatives who opposed the creation of a historic district in southeast Cedar Rapids have scored a victory.
Cedar Rapids likely will not pursue a nomination of the Automobile Row Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was required under an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the city demolished the First Avenue Parkade, which was deemed historic.
In an ironic twist, the funds will instead go to creating a program that city leaders believe will encourage an ethic of historic preservation in the community.
FEMA is checking with groups that signed off on the memorandum of agreement to see if they will support reallocating the funds from Auto Row to a new program at Kirkwood Community College.
The Historic Preservation continuing education program at Kirkwood would be the first of its kind in Iowa. The program needs $40,000 in start-up funds, mostly for curriculum development.
Thomas Smith, city staff liaison for the Historic Preservation Commission, said the City Council will ultimately need to sign off on the new agreement.
Earlier this year, Cedar Rapids put the brakes on the nomination of Auto Row, which the city was required to fund after demolishing the flood-damaged parkade.
About half of the proposed historic district, from Sixth to 10th streets SE between Second and Third avenues, overlaps the medical district, an expanse of about 50 square blocks located primarily between St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center.
City Council members signed an agreement with FEMA in April 2011, but representatives of the medical district said they were caught off-guard by the Automobile Row historic district nomination.
On Feb. 8, the State Nomination Review Committee was scheduled to assess Automobile Row’s eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, but the city pulled the nomination from that day’s agenda.
Although reassured that they could do as they want with properties in a historic district, Ted Townsend, CEO of St. Luke’s Hospital, Mike Sundall, CEO of Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa and other medical district representatives came out in force to voice concerns about the proposed historic district, claiming it could interfere with their long-range plans for the medical district.
Owners of contributing structures in historic districts can be eligible for state and federal historic preservation tax credits. Other property owners in the proposed historic district who had hoped to tap into those tax credits and other preservation incentives are out of luck unless they can successfully get their own building individually listed on the National Register.
Already, one of the 16 contributing structures in the proposed Automobile Row district – those with distinctive architectural character – has been demolished. The former A-1 Vacuum, 209 Seventh St. SE, was razed earlier this year to make way for parking.
The historic district would have paid tribute to the automobile industry’s importance in transforming Cedar Rapids into the second largest city in Iowa by the mid-20th Century. The Lincoln Highway was routed onto Second Avenue around 1920, fueling the growth of businesses to service automobiles traveling the road from New York to California.