CEDAR RAPIDS — A move is afoot to lock in a lasting name — perhaps with "Kingston" in it — for the unnamed, flood-hit commercial area directly across the Cedar River from downtown even as downtown and City Hall leaders are clamoring for the creation of more housing in and near the downtown.
Local developer Fred Timko is set to help with both.
Timko this week said he and a group of investors have reached an agreement to purchase the flood-damaged former Wells Fargo Bank building, which includes the historic Louis Sullivan-designed bank at 101 Third Ave. SW and a newer office tower attached to it.
The purchase is in a 60-day "due diligence" phase, though Timko expected the purchase to be finalized in October.
Timko and his partners are the developers of the Bottleworks Loft Condominiums, 905 Third St. SE, in New Bohemia.
He said his group intends to renovate the bank tower for office use, adding that he would like to seethe historic bank building converted into a space for a restaurant.
As part of the redevelopment, Timko said he will unveil drawings in the days ahead for a six-story, 15-to20-unit condominium building on First Street SW next to the historic bank that will face the Cedar River and the downtown on the other side of it.
The total investment, he said, would be $8 million to $9 million. He said he hoped to begin renovation of the bank tower soon after the purchase deal closes and to start construction on the residential condominiums in the spring.
Timko revealed his plans this week after the City Council’s Development Committee heard presentations from the Metro Economic Alliance, which pointed out the need for more housing in and near the downtown, and from Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter, who said the district across the river from downtown needed a name and a name that had "Kingston" in it.
Stoffer Hunter told the committee that the spot had been the town of Kingston, which started in 1852 and had about 400 people before it was annexed into Cedar Rapids in early 1871. The name came from local pioneer David King, he said.
Stoffer Hunter said the original Kingston occupied an area from the river to the east to what today is Diagonal Drive to the south and Interstate 380 to the west and north. In time, the Kingston name fell out of use, so much so that the west-side high school football stadium was named Kingston in the 1950s as a "concession" to the loss of the historic name elsewhere, he said.
He called it "appropriate" to bring back the Kingston name to the commercial area that Timko said he and others are taking steps to invest in.
For his part, Timko said the district across from downtown needs a defining name just like the Czech Village and New Bohemia areas close to downtown do.
He said he and his partners had come up with the name "West Village" as one possibility for a name as they set out to buy the Wells Fargo Bank property — the deed description is Kingston Lot 1 — and to plan the residential condominium project next to it. Cedar Rapids City Council members Ann Poe and Monica Vernon also have talked about a West Village name, while council member Don Karr has pushed the Kingston name.
"The Kingston thing kind of intrigues me a little bit," Timko said. "You can probably go to any major metropolitan area in the country and find a West Village or an East Village. So Kingston is probably a little more original. I think we can have a nice discussion around either one or something else. I just think it needs to be an identified area."
Council member Vernon, chairwoman of the council’s Development Committee, on Friday said she and committee members Scott Olson and Pat Shey want the name for the spot across from the downtown to emerge from discussions among those who own property there and live and work in that area.
However, she added, "I think the history is pretty compelling."
She noted the original Kingston Village was "exactly there," referring to similarities between the spot that is seeking to be named today and the 1868 map of Kingston provided to the committee by Stoffer Hunter this week.
Vernon said Timko’s plan for the bank buildings and a new residential building next door is the "promising" kind of investment that the City Council has been hoping to see.
"There’s been a lot of government money that’s been put in to come back from the flood," she said. "But the idea all along was to do enough fix-up with government money, that we needed to do, to leverage some private dollars and so private industry and private individuals would see that we are serious. That we want to come back better and stronger."
Timko and Vernon called it important that the state of Iowa approved a City Hall request in recent days to permit redevelopment in the 100-year flood plain in flood-impacted historic districts and commercial zones.
"We’ve been talking about these places and we came up with problems that hadn’t been solved," Vernon explained. "So we went to the state. We said, ‘This will hurt economic development for our community. Can you help us?’" The Iowa Economic Development Authority delivered, she said.