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City council signs off on plans, tax incentives to renovate historic downtown buildings

The Guaranty Bank Building, along with the neighboring World Theater, will be renovated into Marriott Hotels.
The Guaranty Bank Building, along with the neighboring World Theater, will be renovated into Marriott Hotels.
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Two historic landmarks of downtown Cedar Rapids will get a face lift, starting as early as this fall.

On Tuesday, city councilors unanimously approved a development agreement with Heart of America Group to renovate the former Guaranty Bank and World Theater.

"Represents our community's past but these buildings represent our community's future as well," says Bob Grafton, a board member on Friends of Cedar Rapids Preservation. Many historical societies and preservation groups are applauding the project, as the developer has agreed to keep much of the original structures on 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue SE.

"It really does hold down that corner at 3rd and 3rd," community development director Jennifer Pratt says of the building.

Spanning nearly an entire block, the Guaranty Bank Building has sat vacant since the bank moved out in 2017; Pratt says it was important to not let the property sit for too long as it can be unattractive in an otherwise vibrant area.

Pratt says the developers are taking on a unique project in the historic buildings; they’ve toured inside with local historians to see what features should be kept and to get a feel for the history of the buildings.

The city council signed off on their plans and also approved tax incentives.

"We're looking at a $3 million completion grant, as well as then using the additional property taxes that they create over 20 years as a reimbursement to the developer," Pratt explains.

The $50 million project will take renovate the buildings into two Marriott hotels.

"What we hear from people over and over again is when they visit a community, it is the unique buildings and the historic assets that really set it apart," Pratt says.

Grafton says renovation isn’t just ideal for these buildings, it’s more environmentally sound.

"You're not filling up landfill space with these [projects]. You're working with materials that are no longer made or no longer available because they’re so rare," he says.

Nearby businesses, like Grin N Goose and Pub 217, anticipate a boost in business when the project is complete. There will also be a boost to how many people can stay downtown.

Pratt says since the only lodging downtown is the DoubleTree, the city often doesn’t qualify for larger events and conventions.

"A lot of the time we don't even apply for some of those events because their minimum requirements are to have so many hotel rooms within such distance," Pratt says.

The two Marriott hotels would provide 200 additional rooms plus event space and a restaurant.

Work is expected to begin on the project as early as October, and Pratt says the city will assist the developer in applying for an state incentives they qualify for as a historic preservation project.

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"It’s a moment we can all be proud of once the project is complete,” Grafton says. “I think it sets a standard for other developers."

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