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CBJ Report: Mothballed Meskwaki Block offered for redevelopment

Mothballed Meskwaki Block offered for redevelopment

The two-hotel project announced this month by the Heart of America Group for the Guaranty Bank block in downtown Cedar Rapids appears to position the historic Meskwaki Block at 329 Second Ave. SE as a strong candidate for redevelopment.

Heart of America (HOA) Group is buying three-fourths of an entire city block from Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust, which acquired the property in its purchase of Guaranty Bank & Trust in October 2017. That includes the Meskwaki Block property.

The only property on the block that the bank did not own and transfer is the Witwer Building, which contains the White Star Ale House, at 305 Second Ave. SE.

HOA Group Vice President Kirk Whalen told the Cedar Rapids City Council on Nov. 13 that while the Meskwaki Block isn't in its current plans, it will be cleaning out and holding the property for future redevelopment. He said HOA Group is hoping a buyer will see the potential in the property, although he did not rule out the company undertaking a project itself. The plan was applauded by council members, who see the building as another underutilized property that could help revitalize the downtown area through restoration and reuse.

Built in 1897, the three-story brick and block building was designed by prominent local architect William Fulkerson for Ben Heins, an attorney. It has long been an architectural cornerstone downtown, with interesting details such arched windows along the second floor and an attractive stone-and-brick arch entrance to the upper floors facing Second Avenue. Long the site of the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant, it has in more recent years housed the Hazzard County American Saloon, a country western bar that recently moved across the street to 402 Second Ave SE.

Council member and Skogman Commercial real estate specialist Scott Olson sees the building as a strong candidate for a mixed-use redevelopment project, with the potential to qualify for historic preservation tax credits. The upper two floors could be restored to their previous use as apartments and the ground floor could be office or retail, Mr. Olson said. Having two new hotels, a new restaurant and a new lounge on the block will likely increase the value of the property, he added.

The 14,400-square-foot property was most recently assessed at $365,000.

Riverside Casino celebrating finish of $11M renovation

Riverside Casino & Golf Resort will celebrate the completion of its $11 million renovation project with a slate of activities starting on Thursday.

General contractor Baxter Construction led the renovation that began in March. Thirty-two Iowa sub-contractors contributed to the casino facility's new look, which include a new enclosed poker room, a redesigned show lounge, a remodeled buffet, a new bar and "grab 'n go" outlet, and new carpeting, wallpaper and tile throughout the resort.

"It's been a long year for both our employees and customers, but well worth the wait," General Manager Dan Franz said in a statement.

The renovation celebration, intended to "thank our communities for their patience and understanding throughout this past year," will kick off with at 5 p.m. on Thursday with an event hosted by University of Iowa Hawkeyes broadcaster Gary Dolphin. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will follow remarks by Mr. Kehl and Mr. Franz.

The casino will offer a BOGO buffet offer from Thursday to Saturday, free cake and champagne, and Hawkeye basketball and football season ticket drawings.

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