Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha battle for compromise on Tower Terrace Road development plan

Twisters Gymastics owner caught in dispute over access to water supply

Rick Smith
Published: January 31 2014 | 4:00 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:58 am in

Cooperation between Cedar Rapids and next-door neighbor Hiawatha isn’t unheard of out on the cities’ border on Tower Terrace Road just west of Interstate 380.

But this municipal neighborliness — among these sometimes-cutthroat rivals when it comes to economic development and growth — has its limits.

Just ask John Mangold.

Mangold is planning to move his Twisters Gymnastics gym from leased space at 205 Miller Rd. in Hiawatha to a larger, yet-to-be-built facility nearby on 20 acres of property he purchased last summer at 4625 Tower Terrace Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids.

The 38-year-old Mangold has carried a passion for gymnastics from his youth into the gym business he purchased in 2001, a growing enterprise that now provides classes in gymnastics and dance for some 1,000 metro area youngsters. He is not a real estate developer, he is quick to add.

Mangold purchased the undeveloped land on Tower Terrace Road NE from a church that once had plans to build on the property. At the time of the purchase, no one said there would be any problem acquiring water service for the new building. After all, the municipal water line runs in the front yard of the property.

However, the water line on Mangold’s new Cedar Rapids property is the city of Hiawatha’s line, which is in place because of a cooperative agreement between Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha. The agreement permits each city to extend their water lines on the other city’s property if necessary.

The cooperation, though, doesn’t extend to allowing a Cedar Rapids property owner to connect to the Hiawatha water line on his property, Mangold has learned.

“For the water, I thought it was very simple thing,” he said.

In fact, he said he came away from a first meeting with the Hiawatha Water Board believing that the board matter-of-factly would let his new gym hook up to the Hiawatha city water line. The board rejected the idea at its next meeting, during which he said some board members spent time talking about how Mangold’s property should be in Hiawatha and not Cedar Rapids.

He said the discussion seemed to reach back to the giant brouhaha in the late 1990s when Hiawatha moved to annex some property only to have property owners turn to Cedar Rapids for help. They succeeded in asking to be annexed into Cedar Rapids to prevent going into Hiawatha.

“Now I’m stuck in the middle of it,” Mangold said. “… At this point, I don’t really care what city I’m in.”

Mangold, who is leasing a 10,000-square-foot building, had intended to build a 20,000-square-foot one on his Cedar Rapids property. However, any building larger than 12,000 square feet requires a sprinkler system, which needs the water pressure from a municipal water system, not a private well, to support the sprinklers.

With the denial from the Hiawatha Water Board, he said he now faces an added cost of $40,000 to $50,000 for a tank, pump and backup generator to support the sprinkler system fed by a well. Instead, he’s seeking to build smaller buildings at more cost with a firewall between them.

In a compromise suggestion, he has asked the city of Hiawatha to let him connect to its water just for the sprinkler system, which he’s not apt to ever need. But Hiawatha has rejected that idea, too, he said.

Patrick White, vice chairman of the Hiawatha Water Board, on Thursday said the board rejected Mangold’s water request for his Twisters Gymnastics facility because granting his request would open the door to other requests in the undeveloped area around him that is not yet served by the Cedar Rapids water system.

Kim Downs, Hiawatha’s city administrator, said Hiawatha recently turned down a request from a Robins business for water service, “so we’re really being fair across the board,” she said. The issue isn’t about some past dispute over annexation, “it’s really about what’s happening today, what can we afford today.”

The Water Board’s White said he liked “the young man,” calling Mangold “a quality young person.”

At the same time, White said Mangold should have bought other property with access to Cedar Rapids water if he wanted to locate in Cedar Rapids.

“I’ve been around the horn a few times,” White said. “Would you not have checked these things out before you bought the land? I’d have all my facts in line. Period. Over and out.”

White wondered how Mangold’s new facility would obtain fire protection, but Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids Public Safety spokesman, said Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha cooperate on this. The two cities have a mutual service agreement for border properties that likely would send fire trucks from both departments to Mangold’s location on Tower Terrace Road to use Hiawatha water to put out a fire.

This kind of intercity cooperation for fire protection was “logical,” White said. However, he said that thought doesn’t extend of providing access to water to support a fire sprinkler system.

Joe Mailander, development services program manager for the city of Cedar Rapids, said he attended the Hiawatha Water Board meeting to help make the case for Mangold’s Twisters Gymnastics to obtain permission to hook up to Hiawatha’s water line on the gym’s property.

Mailander said Mangold did come to realize the need to secure Hiawatha water as he worked with the city of Cedar Rapids on zoning issues related to the new site for his gym.

“I think he had high hopes,” Mailander said of Mangold’s thoughts on connecting to Hiawatha water.

He said the undeveloped area in Cedar Rapids where Mangold’s is building his gym is about a mile from the nearest Cedar Rapids water line, and is position in the next several years to have Cedar Rapids water service extended to it. Once that happens, Mangold will be required to connect within three years, he said.

According to Megan Murphy, spokeswoman for the Cedar Rapids Water Division, the city of Cedar Rapids provides water service to 10 Hiawatha residential customers, 117 Marion customers and 791 Robins customers. She said Hiawatha does not now serve any Cedar Rapids residential customers, though Hiawatha does provide sewer service to 14 Cedar Rapids homes.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett laughed when asked if Cedar Rapids might consider cutting off water service to Hiawatha customers because Hiawatha is refusing to serve a Cedar Rapids customer.

“We’re big regional people here in Cedar Rapids,” Corbett said. “We don’t’ play a tit-for-tat game like that.

Twisters Gymnastics’ owner Mangold said he met with Hiawatha Mayor Tom Theis after his defeat at the Hiawatha Water Board. He said he was told that he could get water service if he annexed his property into Hiawatha. But he said his property isn’t directly next to Hiawatha to allow that, he said.

In a last effort to make his case, Mangold said he has tried to point out to Hiawatha that getting the proposed Tower Terrace interchange on Interstate 380 built has seemed to be a much bigger priority for Hiawatha than Cedar Rapids. Supporting his new gym on Tower Terrace Road in Cedar Rapids might spur more development there and elevate Cedar Rapids’ interest in the interchange, he said.

Mangold said his gym programs long have served the Hiawatha community and will continue to from the new spot in Cedar Rapids. But the idea of community for Hiawatha city leaders apparently ends at their border, he said.

“It’s always been a dream to build our own gym,” Mangold said. “And it’s really disappointing to be held back by something as simple as water.”

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