Date: June 1–4, 2009
Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Sponsor: City of Cedar Rapids
Chair: John M. Walsh III
Subject Area: Disaster Recovery
In the early days of June 2008, torrential rain and melting snow in the upper Midwest led to serious flooding for a large number of communities in Iowa. As a result, the estimated financial public assistance needs for the state of Iowa exceed $1.1 billion, making the floods of 2008 the fifth-largest state disaster in U.S. history.
The ULI approach in Cedar Rapids was to provide a focused, strategic look at a specific portion of the city: the area in and around the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown. The city provided the panel with a series of questions regarding redevelopment and revitalization of the downtown core near the center, which included the following:
- How can the city attract the next-generation workforce to downtown?
- How can investing in a downtown act as a catalyst for housing?
- What uses will drive expanded development?
- What transportation and parking improvements will be necessary in a revitalized downtown?
- How can people be better attracted to downtown?
- What components of “branding” can be brought to bear on downtown?
- What should be done with the U.S. Cellular Center and its associated hotel?
Summary of Recommendations
The panel believes the city can go further by encouraging and implementing a variety of strategies and approaches that include the following:
- Recognizing that great downtowns require not only a plan with specific physical improvements but also patience to allow both market forces and government financial backing to create an environment that reduces private sector risk. Although the economy of 2009 is challenging, opportunities are available for those willing and able to act.
- Establishing and incentivizing new approaches to encourage a variety of housing in downtown to attract pent-up demand. The panel feels that the lack of residential product types in downtown limits expression of market preference.
- Retaining and remodeling the U.S. Cellular Center.
- Retaining and remodeling the Crowne Plaza Cedar Rapids–Five Seasons Hotel so that it acts as a true conference center hotel with highly amenitized conference space and excellent audiovisual capabilities, and purchase of the hotel by the city.
- Reimaging the arena, hotel, and conference center street presence on 1st Avenue.
- Establishing an iconic architectural focus in the remodeled U.S. Cellular Center at the terminus of 3rd Street.
- Planning for and nurturing a new arts, culture, and entertainment (ACE) district focused on the area between 4th Street and the Cedar River.
- Expanding downtown management and programming for events and activities.
- Improving the governance for downtown activities. The vision that the panel suggests is to make a place that is the “There” for the city, the region, and eastern Iowa.