It may be that the very last piece of available land finally has been purchased for development along what has grown to become the jampacked 33rd Avenue SW, not far south of downtown and off the busy Interstate 380.
It's a road that's long been a site for expansion.
Back when Jeff Chittenden opened Gateway Standard in 1971, at the corner of Sixth Street and 33rd Avenue SW, gasoline was selling for 37 cents a gallon and I-380 was slowly snaking its way north from I-80.
Chittenden's service station joined Jack Jones Furniture, built in 1969 at 505 33rd Ave. SW, as the first businesses on what would later become a teaming east-west commercial corridor. The building eventually was converted to offices for Quintrex Data Systems.
In 1974, the owner of the Happy Chef franchise in Iowa opened a restaurant at 365 33rd Ave. SW, near what would become the southbound entrance ramp for I-380. Two years later, Cedar Rapids plumber Jack Zazza and a partner, Don Broulik, opened the six-story, 157-room Sheraton Four Points Hotel at 525 33rd Ave. SW and “motel row” was unofficially born.
By November 1990, seven additional “economy” hotels with a total of 620 rooms were erected on 33rd Avenue SW between I-380 and the area west of Sixth Street SW, creating 777 rooms for visitors to the community. A bank, restaurants and warehouses also popped up along the east-west route and neighboring streets, creating and satisfying traveler demand.
“I am surprised at the number of hotels out there, but there apparently is continued demand,” said Cedar Rapids City Councilman Scott Olson, who developed the plans for the Sheraton as a young architect. “The area has continued to develop at its own pace.
“We have gone through surges when a lot of hotels were built, and then things leveled off,” said Olson, a developer and commercial Realtor with Skogman Commercial. “I think we could possibly see a hotel built on land that Hawkeye Downs is selling at the front of its property and potentially one or two additional hotels in the downtown area.”
In recent years, with 13 hotels offering nearly 1,100 rooms, fewer hotels and restaurants have been constructed along 33rd Avenue or Sixth Street SW as the national recession took a toll on the hospitality industry and available parcels of land became harder to find and develop.
In 2007, Hawkeye Hotels of Burlington bought land at Sixth Street and 32nd Avenue SW with plans to construct a 92-room, four-story Fairfield Inn & Suites, which opened in 2011. The family-owned chain later purchased land at 730 33rd Ave. SW where it now is constructing a 95-suite, four-story Residence Inn & Suites extended-stay hotel.
“We think we have purchased the last available parcel of land on 33rd Avenue SW,” said Raj Patel, Hawkeye Hotels corporate director of development. “We liked the location because it is just south and west of our Fairfield Inn.”
A different clientele
Jennifer Pratt, assistant director of the city's Community Development Department, said I-380 was the major catalyst for the development of the east-west commercial corridor.
“The proximity to the interstate has really shaped the development out there,” Pratt said, “It's all a matter of convenience, whether it's truck drivers needing a place to stay for the night or visitors to the community for business or leisure.
“There is a whole different clientele for the hotels on 33rd Avenue than the hotels in downtown Cedar Rapids or on Collins Road.”
Pratt said the city will not try to shape further development along 33rd Avenue SW. She said the market will determine what happens in the future.
“The hotel industry annually gathers a ton of data, so I think any developer will do their due diligence in terms of market saturation,” Pratt said,
Olson noted that any further hotel development likely will involve a niche market such as extended stay chains along the lines of a Homewood Suites, MainStay Suites or Residence Inn.
“You can only add so many rooms without screwing up the market,” Olson said.
Several hotels along 33rd Avenue SW have changed national affiliation over the years, including the Sheraton, which became the Clarion Hotel & Convention Center in 2002. Restaurants also have changed owners, affiliations and identities as well as being replaced (as with Burger King and McDonald's) when they have become outdated.
As for Jeff Chittenden's business, he sold his service station in May 2004 and retired to Missouri, citing dwindling fuel margins. The land at 560 33rd Ave. SW. eventually was redeveloped for a Sonic drive-through restaurant.
But the property continued to change hands.
The eatery, owned by Iowa Drive-Ins LLC, closed in January 2012. The site was purchased earlier this year by Casey's General Stores of Ankeny, which has begun construction of a 4,200-square-foot convenience store.
Casey's has operated a 3,800-square-foot venue just up the street, at 380 33rd Ave. SW. Brian Johnson, Casey's vice president of finance, said his company will continue to operate the older store because it caters to the interstate trade.
“We believe there's two distinct traffic patterns there,” Johnson said. “The goal for the new store will be to pick up the heavy traffic on Sixth Street as well as the lunch crowd from the industrial area to the west,
“We're hoping to be up and operating by the end of September.”