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Historic structures are given new life by a $31 million development in Downtown Cedar Rapids



Cedar Rapids, Iowa – Three abandoned buildings could be given new life as part of a $31 million downtown makeover.

This comprises the “Dragon” building on 3rd Street Southeast, the Strand Theater, and the Guaranty Bank building.

In 2018, the city did have plans for the same structures. The developers abandoned their intentions to construct two hotels with a rooftop bar and steakhouse at that time since the pandemic had stopped subsidizing the hospitality industry.

“This is a pretty important block,” said Aspect Architecture Design, Steve Emerson. “It’s a missing tooth in the downtown fabric.”

Last year, Emerson purchased the structures. He claimed that the financing didn’t work out when he first intended to construct a hotel here.

“I was trying to do a boutique hotel in the Guaranty Bank building, but lenders are still leery of hospitality,” said Emerson. “Multi-family was just the next best thing.”

Emerson announced in the Strand Theater that he intended to construct a cutting-edge gym. He believes it might be finished in four to six months.

“That’s one of the advantages of being a gym is, clean it up, put the equipment in, get some good lighting in and it’s kind of a cool funky space,” said Emerson.

The “Dragon” building would have apartments above and business space below, possibly CR Boxing, according to Emerson. That can require a full year.

In addition to 72 apartments above, the Guaranty Bank building would also include a spa, convenience shop, and wellness center.

Emerson stated that to be eligible for state historic grants, he intended to preserve as much of the buildings’ historic features as possible.

“The historian as well as the National Park Service and state historic preservation office dictate and determine what are the elements that are important,” he said.

Although Emerson indicated that work had already started, they were still awaiting word on whether they would be eligible for state funds. His project was one of five that had applied for state tax incentives for workforce housing in Cedar Rapids. He applied for it last year but was not granted access to it.

“We’re going to throw our hat back in the ring and see if we can get workforce housing tax credits for the apartment side of it,” he said.

Emerson stated that while revitalizing old buildings was a significant aspect of the project, the downtown area will also receive much-needed housing.

“Bringing housing down here, more of it, is important,” said Emerson. “Well have another 62 units of housing and that’s great. That will be wonderful for the downtown and good for people that want to live down here.”