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CBJ Report: Alliant’s Big Cedar recognized as Iowa’s first certified mega site

Big Cedar Industrial Park at Edgewood Road and 76th Street SW has 1,391 acres available for business development.

Alliant’s Big Cedar recognized as Iowa’s first certified mega site

Alliant Energy's Big Cedar Industrial Park at the Eastern Iowa Airport has been recognized as the first industrial site in Iowa to be certified as a mega site through the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) Certified Site Program.

Big Cedar Industrial Park at Edgewood Road and 76th Street SW has 1,391 acres available for business development.

IEDA rolled out the Iowa Certified Site Program in May 2012 to address the lack of project-ready industrial sites in the state. It is an independent, third-party certification program that uses the site selection firm Quest Site Solutions as the certifying agent. Mega sites, one of seven categories in the program, must contain at least 1,000 acres.

“The mega site shows that we are ‘open for business’ and will help attract new development, business and workers into Iowa that will lead to increased growth for our entire region,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said during an Oct. 24 ceremony with representatives of Alliant, the airport, the city and IEDA.

IEDA Director Debi Durham said mega sites are uniquely suited to companies requiring substantial infrastructure, such as automotive manufacturers, and make Iowa more attractive to such large projects.

Multi-hotel project proposed for Guaranty Bank block in CR

Heart of America Group (HOA) has cleared a hurdle in its quest to redevelop two historic downtown Cedar Rapids properties into hotels and a restaurant.

HOA is proposing to convert the first floor of the Guaranty Bank building at the northeast corner of Third Street and Third Avenue SE into a restaurant and the upper five floors of the building into a boutique hotel. In addition, HOA wants to convert the adjacent World Theater building at 314 Third Ave. into a 75-room hotel.

A nine-story tower where the building's auditorium is located, complete with a rooftop bar, would connect to the restored facade of the historic theater.

The plans were submitted to the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) in an application for tax credits that was approved on Oct. 19. The IEDA board approved a grayfield tax credit equivalent to 12 percent of any qualifying investment of $33.35 million, for a maximum of $1 million.

The project has an estimated value of $50.8 million, according to the grant application. HOA is a well-established company with offices in Des Moines and Moline, Illinois, that develops, owns and manages hospitality properties, including the Machine Shed, Johnny's Italian Steakhouse and Thunder Bay Grille brands. The company also operates hotels under the Marriott and Hilton flags, according to its website.

The Guaranty Bank building, a distinctive red stone and brick structure constructed in 1895, has long been discussed as the site of a boutique hotel. The bank and the World Theater building were acquired by Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust last year with its acquisition of Guaranty Bank. A grayfield tax credit would help cover the cost of resolving issues such as asbestos in the buildings.

A Johnny's Italian Steakhouse is proposed on the first floor of the bank building and other business concepts might be incorporated in the project, according to Cedar Rapids City Council Member Scott Olson of Skogman Commercial, who has been involved in the city's discussions with HOA over a period of several years. HOA is working with Steve Emerson's Aspect Architecture on the project design, Mr. Olson said.

The city is likely to see two more downtown boutique hotel projects emerge, Mr. Olson said, adding price and service competition. That competition will help the city capture more convention and meeting business by offering different styles of lodging and more rooms, he added.

LMC launches health insurance pool for mid-sized companies

LMC Insurance and Risk Management of West Des Moines has announced plans for the Employer Coalition, a new health insurance pool to help medium-sized Iowa employers manage insurance costs.

The Iowa Employer Coalition will be for employers with between 51-500 employees, and will be underwritten by Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Iowa, LMC officials said. Employers in the pool will be able to choose from a variety of plans, but will be part of a larger pool of employees for actuarial purposes, meaning rates are unlikely to skyrocket just because one or a small group of employees in a company have high claims in a year.

"Think of a coalition of employers working together, doing something together to try to address health care costs," said Rick DeBartolo, senior vice president of LMC. "We want them to feel like they're running it. LMC is going to bring them ideas and decide what makes sense to implement with their employees."

Mr. DeBartolo said LMC brainstormed approaches last spring with Wellmark "for what I call the most frustrated segment of the market," which are medium-sized employers too small to self-insure, but with a pool large enough that they are rated on claims experience. He said the approach borrows many features from an insurance pool LMC administers with the Iowa Hospital Association for the state's rural hospitals.

Not every employer will be able to participate because the pool will have baseline requirements for employer contributions to health insurance costs. The pool hopes to have 10 employers signed up when it starts in January. Mr. DeBartolo said LMC will be looking at companies seeking long-term strategies for controlling costs, because it will take two or three years to begin to see the financial savings.

For these stories and more, check out Monday's edition of the Corridor Business Journal.

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