Open house seeks public input on fate of First and First West, and will provide update on west side flood control in Cedar Rapids

Open house on flood control and First & First West

National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library — Tuesday, Nov. 12 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Cedar River — Zak Neumann/Little Village

After accepting a casino just isn’t in the cards for First and First West, the city of Cedar Rapids is seeking public input on what to do with the downtown site.

An open house on Tuesday, Nov. 12 will allow people a chance to speak out on what they would like to see on vacant land. The event will also feature information about the upcoming flood control projects on the west side of Cedar Rapids.

The 90-minute open house starts at 4:30 p.m. and will be at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

The eight acres of land have been unused since the 2008 flood. For years, the land has been reserved for a casino, but the plans were rejected in 2014 and again in 2017, despite Linn County voters approving a gambling referendum in 2013.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) decided adding another casino in the state would hurst business at existing casinos, citing the lack of growth in Iowa’s gaming businesses.

City officials decided in 2018 to start going in a different direction. About a year ago, the city chose Indianapolis-based firm Flaherty & Collins as the developer, said Caleb Mason, an economic development analyst for the city.

But Flaherty & Collins’ focus was on upscale housing, Mason said at the city council’s development committee meeting on Oct. 16, and the city has different plans for the location. It wants an attraction that will pull people into downtown Cedar Rapids.

“This destination, this attraction piece, to pull people in and engage them in the site wasn’t front and center in our discussions with Flaherty & Collins,” Mason said. “So, the steering committee really suggested we need to clarify that.”

The city notified Flaherty & Collins of the change but is not ruling out working with the developers in the future if they submit a new plan, according to the Gazette.

City councilmembers Ann Poe, Marty Hoeger and Ashley Vanorny all expressed their enthusiasm for the site’s potential during the Oct. 16 meeting. The three members are part of the development committee.

“Whatever we put here we have the opportunity to create a crown jewel in Cedar Rapids … [and] to have this much acreage near our downtown is something that you never get that opportunity in an established city like Cedar Rapids, especially our size,” Vanorny said. “I’m excited about what’s to come.”

Mason said it was “natural” for the First and First West site to be incorporated into the Nov. 12 open house on flood control, which was already scheduled.

After the open house feedback is received, the next step will happen at the Nov. 19 city council meeting, where councilmembers will initiate a request for proposals. Then, developers will submit a master plan, and the city council is expected to choose a proposal next year.

“It was disappointing when we weren’t able to get the casino at that site,” Poe said. “But in my mind, I always felt like something wonderful would go there, and I still believe something wonderful will go there. … It’ll be interesting to see what the community thinks and what their vision [is].”

The other focus of the open house includes updates on the flood control system. It’s a follow up to an open house that was held earlier this year in June.

This open house will focus on the west side of the system, including elevating O Avenue across a flood levee, reconfiguring E and F Avenue and a new restroom and storage facility at the McGrath Amphitheatre that includes a built-in floodwall.

Attendees will also see updated concepts for the NewBo/Czech Village gateway that will be part of the 16th Avenue floodgate.

The entire flood control system plan, which was approved in June 2015, is expected to cost $750 million over the next 20 years. The goal is to complete the project in 10 to 15 years, according to the city’s website.