‘It doesn’t seem right’: Cedar Rapids residents protest the subsidized demolition of historic buildings

Demonstration at the Bever Building

417 First Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids — Monday, April 9 at 4:30 p.m.

The Bever Building was built in 1923. — photo by Jordan Sellergren

Normally, when supporters of historic preservation hold a demonstration, it’s to try to save a threatened property. But it’s too late for the Bever Building, a fixture in downtown Cedar Rapids since 1923 — it’s going to be torn down to make way for a new building for Skogman Companies of Iowa, the largest real estate company in the I-380 corridor. So the focus of the demonstration at the Bever Building on Monday at 4:30 p.m. led by Save CR Heritage will focus on the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize the demolition of the city’s historic buildings.

“It doesn’t seem right to have the citizens of Cedar Rapids subsidize the demolition of our history with tax incentives,” said Cindy Hadish of Save CR Heritage, a nonprofit that tries to raise awareness of the city’s historic buildings and advocate for their restoration and reuse.

Skogman Co.s has received by tax incentives from both the state and city for its new building, the construction of which involves not just tearing down the Bever Building, but also two smaller buildings, including the former home of Sub City. The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) awarded Skogman $750,000 in redevelopment tax credits. In February, the Cedar Rapids City Council authorized a 50-percent property tax reimbursement on new value over 10 years, which amounts to $800,000 refunded out of the estimated $2.2 million taxes paid over that period.

“The IEDA gave Skogman three-quarters of a million dollars in tax incentives for its project, while on the other hand, the State Historic Preservation Office said demolishing these buildings will diminish the integrity of the historic district, which was just added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015,” Hadish said.

Being part of a district on the National Register of Historic Places won’t prevent a building from being torn down, Hadish explained.

“If it was a local historic district there would be protection, because we do have a couple of historic districts in Cedar Rapids, where a homeowner needs approval to make almost any change. There would definitely be protection from demolition,” Hadish said. “Being on the National Register of Historic Places may be a point of pride, but it doesn’t offer any protection. You can do anything you want with your buildings.”

Hadish said she and other members of Save CR Heritage had been hopeful that the city council was going to take historic preservation more seriously.

“The city included historic preservation in some its long-range planning documents,” Hadish said. “But to our group it seems like that commitment is just words, because their actions don’t match the rhetoric.”

Hadish pointed to another recent example of tax incentives being awarded to a project that involves tearing down an historic building: The city council approved $9.5 million in tax incentives to cover the cost of a new parking ramp for Physicians Clinic of Iowa. The Clark mansion, built in 1885, will be torn down to make room for the ramp.

“I don’t think a lot people are aware that they are subsidizing these projects. That’s why we’re trying to raise awareness about this issue,” Hadish said. “We’ll be out there, rain or snow or shine.”

“We’re hoping people just bundle up, and stand with the building that’s stood there for 95 years.”

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