CBJ Report: Cargill considers expansion on 28-acre CR site

A photo of a Cargill plant in Cedar Rapids. (CBS2/FOX28)

Every week, the Corridor Business Journal shares stories it's working on with CBS2/FOX28. Here are some of their top stories that will appear in Monday's edition of the CBJ.

Cargill considers expansion on 28-acre CR site

The city of Cedar Rapids has begun a process to consider the disposition of a vacant 28-acre city-owned tract of land northeast of Prairie Park Fishery following interest from Cargill.

The global food company is interested in acquiring the land along Otis Road for development of a rail car switching and storage yard for its corn milling operation located to the northwest, which has continued to grow and expand for more than a half-century on the north bank of the Cedar River.

Cargill converts corn into a variety of corn sweeteners and starches. The expansion would expedite freight and reduce switching movements in downtown Cedar Rapids.

The request will go to the Cedar Rapids City Council after being reviewed Tuesday by the council's Development Committee. The city's development staff recommended approval of the disposition process, which requires opening the property up for offers from other interested parties. The disposition should be conditioned on several objectives, according to a staff memo, including community benefit from the sale, a land use compatible with significant flood events on the Cedar River, a financially viable proposal based on current market conditions, and a proposal that mitigates compatibility with surrounding land uses to the greatest extent possible.

Council Member Scott Olson of Skogman Commercial said Cargill had previously presented a different plan for its own rail facility that would have required closing Otis Road - a prospect that didn't excite city leaders. He believes the proposal to use the city-owned land could be a "win-win" if it receives support from neighbors in the nearby Rompot neighborhood. He said Cargill is proposing a system of berms and planted screenings to minimize the impact of rail activity.

The Development Committee also reviewed plans on Tuesday to begin a process for disposition of two vacant city-owned parcels for which a casino had been proposed just west of First Street in the city's Kingston Village area. The process includes choosing a development team with capacity and experience with projects of similar scope and scale, and actively engaging the team in the visioning process to ensure the expectations of the city council and community are achievable, based on market feasibility.

Interchanges trigger commercial explosion in Tiffin

The pace of commercial development has lagged residential development in Tiffin, the Johnson County community east of Coralville that was ranked Iowa’s fastest growing city in 2017, but that will change this summer.

Work is progressing on the new Forevergreen Road interchange on Interstate 380 that will create a new gateway to Tiffin, and on the replacement of the I-80/380 interchange that will give the city more visibility and more lanes for easy interstate access.

Tiffin leaders are expecting the city’s first big-box retail store as soon as the Forevergreen Road interchange is complete this fall. A national retailer has signed a letter of intent – the first major step toward committing to build – for a 185,000-square-foot megastore in the 270-acre Park Place development underway near the interchange by Ders Group. The retailer wants to open the store as soon as the Forevergreen interchange is completed, according Scott Andersen, president of Coralville-based Ders.

Assuming the deal proceeds, the store could open next spring on a site at the southwest corner of the interchange. Several other big-box retailers are likely to follow when the first retailer opens, Mr. Andersen said, although none have committed.

About 2 million cubic yards of earth are being excavated to create detention basins, streets and level lots in Park Place. Big-box retail will be on one side of Park Road, which will connect Highway 6 to Forevergreen Road. On the other side will be Park Place City Center, with ground floor commercial and several floors of residential, much like those developed recently on Fifth Street in Coralville. An abundance of single-family residential will round out the development.

Some of the work will improve the already high visibility of the site from I-380.

“In Iowa, it’s hard to find a piece of land that gives character to a development,” Mr. Andersen said. “But this site provides views all the way to Kinnick Stadium and the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, and down into Tiffin.”

Retailers like the visibility and homebuilders like the views. It’s one of the main reasons Mr. Andersen and his team spent about six years assembling the Park Place site.

Veritas Church of Iowa City looks to be the first occupant of Park Place. Its large contemporary church, being built by Story Construction, is already enclosed, and will provide a needed meeting place for the growing congregation’s 900-plus members.

“Scott calls it ‘IRL on steroids,’” Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner said, referring to the Iowa River Landing mixed-use development the city of Coralville has been working on for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, at the 80/380 Commerce Park just northeast of the I-80/380 interchange, High Development is beginning work on the Hunt Club, a 23-acre master-planned 240-unit luxury multifamily apartment complex with a clubhouse, pool, playground and walking paths. Construction began this month on the six-unit first phase, CEO Darryl High said, with the first units expected to be ready for occupancy later this year.

Tiffin recently granted zoning approval for Tiffin’s first senior living development, which will also be in the 80/380 Commerce Park. About three acres will be sold by High Development to a developer for the 70-unit senior living facility, Mr. High said.

Several names are missing from the upcoming projects. Mr. Andersen said he signed a confidentiality agreement that prevents him from naming the big-box retailer planning the megastore, and Mr. High said the developer of the senior living facility isn’t yet ready to unveil its plans.

City Administrator Doug Boldt said he is frequently asked about rumors that Home Depot, Ikea or Target are planning stores in Tiffin, but insisted that he personally does not know which retailer it will be.

“Would it surprise me if a Target or a Home Depot came here? Really not,” Mr. Boldt said.

A 185,000-square-footprint store would actually be large for a Super Target or Home Depot home improvement center, however, making a superstore like Cabela’s – another chain rumored to be interested in Tiffin – more likely.

Tiffin’s biggest retail commitment as of late that can be named is the grocery chain Fareway. After much courting from Mr. Boldt, Fareway committed to locate in a four-lot development east of Solon State Bank which is under development by Matthew Adam-led Kaiser Holdings of Coralville.

A new optometric practice is also slated to open on West Marengo Road near the Clear Creek-Amana School District’s main campus.

HyperSolar extends research agreement with UI

HyperSolar Inc., a public company developing a new technology to produce renewable hydrogen using sunlight and water, today announced it has extended its sponsored research agreement with the University of Iowa for another year.

The new commitment will allow California-based HyperSolar to continue to "aggressively pursue" its sustainable hydrogen production process, which is intended to help meet the growing demand for hydrogen in the transportation and materials handling sectors.

Unlike hydrocarbon fuels, such as oil, coal and natural gas, where carbon dioxide and other contaminants are released into the atmosphere when used, hydrogen fuel produces pure water as the only byproduct.

Currently, most hydrogen power is made from fossil fuels in a chemical process called steam reforming, which emits carbon dioxide. Even though the end product is hydrogen, its inputs make it much less environmentally friendly and sustainable.

A team led by UI Assistant Professor Syed Mubeen and HyperSolar CTO Joun Lee has helped move HyperSolar closer to commercialization over the past year, according to the company. Its accomplishments include a one-square-foot prototype capable of producing renewable hydrogen using commercially-available solar cells and replacing expensive platinum material components with lower-cost options. The team has also filed for utility patent protection of a proprietary generator housing design.

"As we move closer to building a full demonstration pilot plant with our first-generation technology, extending the relationship with University of Iowa has been a top priority as they have been instrumental in increasing the speed-to-market for HyperSolar technology," CEO Tim Young said in a statement. "We have always understood that the goal for low-cost renewable hydrogen production would require time and patience, yet the capabilities of HyperSolar technology have expanded rapidly - a credit to the University of Iowa as well as our first university partner, University of California, Santa Barbara."

According to Iowa Now, Mr. Mubeen first teamed up with HyperSolar while he was working at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where the company is based. When Mr. Mubeen came to the UI in 2014, HyperSolar signed its first sponsored research agreement with the university to help fund Mr. Mubeen's work on the continued development of renewable hydrogen power. A second research agreement was signed in 2016.

"Although H2 [hydrogen] can be used in many forms, the immediate possibility of this renewable H2 would be for use in fuel cells to generate electricity or react with CO2 to form liquid fuels like methanol for the transportation sector," he told the university news service in 2016. "If one could develop these systems at costs competitive to fossil fuel systems, then it would be a home run."

To learn more about HyperSolar, visit the company's website.

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