An attractive brick office building in the still-new Longfellow Square commercial development in Hiawatha is helping to fuel a new bout of anxiety at Cedar Rapids City Hall over Cedar Rapids’ ability to attract and keep businesses.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has been sufficiently envious of owner Jon Dusek’s Longfellow development — and his other development options in Hiawatha — that he has been forced to take a page out of Dusek’s and the city of Hiawatha’s playbooks.
Dusek, president/CEO of Armstrong Development Co. with headquarters in the family’s former downtown Cedar Rapids department store, says he has learned to spread his risk in the last decade or more.
Not every business, says Dusek, wants to locate in downtown Cedar Rapids — or for that matter in Cedar Rapids at all. Some, he says, have come to like the suburban feel and the easy access to Interstate 380 that Cedar Rapids neighbor Hiawatha has to offer.
As a result, Dusek, 56, a grandson of former department store owner Robert Armstrong, has bought and built on 30 acres of land at the Boyson Road interchange to Interstate 380 at Hiawatha and now has begun to develop another 54 acres there to the north along Tower Terrace Road, where a new interstate interchange is expected to be built in the future.
Meanwhile, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett says he has been courting an out-of-state firm of late to move into Cedar Rapids, only to have been told that Cedar Rapids currently does not have an available, high-end, “Class A” office building to match Dusek’s available building in Hiawatha.
Hearing that, Corbett now is proposing to provide property-tax breaks to local developer Joe Ahmann, who says, with the economic help, he will invest more than $30 million in an upscale office park called Fountains, which will include restaurants and retail shops at Edgewood and Blairs Ferry roads NE — in Cedar Rapids.
The current City Hall incentive proposal calls for providing Ahmann a 100 percent property-tax break for five years on taxes that result from his new investment — an approach called tax increment financing, an option widely used in Iowa.
What do you think of incentives like these? How far should local governments go in offering tax incentives to attract new business development?
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