By Pat Shaver
One of Cedar Rapids’ most historic neighborhoods and unique business districts could use more visitors.
With the ongoing flood recovery, that National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library move and a streetscape project, businesses in the Czech Village are hoping to see more traffic through the district.
“It would be really nice to see more people shop down here locally. I think people forget about all the great restaurants we have down here,” said Robyn Rieckhoff, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District.
A few weeks ago, the neighborhood held its Czech Fall Festival event, which included pumpkin carving, activities for children and accordion performances. Though the Czech Village and New Bohemia district holds frequent events, Ms. Rieckhoff said businesses would benefit from more visitors on a daily basis.
“Some businesses are doing very well. Some definitely could use more (business),” she said.
Ms. Rieckhoff has seen an increased interest recently in vacant buildings.
“A lot of it has to do with people seeing the streetscape finished. When you drive down through here it looks good,” she said.
The $3 million streetscape project on Third Street SE includes new streets, new sidewalks, landscaping like trees and planters, benches, garbage bins and bike racks.
“It was all planned out before the flood and when the flood happened it was put off for a while. Finally, it’s about done,” she said, adding the project is a few weeks from completion.
Ms. Rieckhoff cited new restaurants opening like Capones and Smugglers Wharf in the area as signs of growth. A South American restaurant is expected to open in the Suchy Building, she added.
“A lot of people drive through to see what’s going on. But we need them to stop, to go to these businesses and support these people,” Ms. Rieckhoff said. “We’re back here and we want people to remember to come down here and eat and shop and support these businesses because these people put everything they had back into their businesses to come back and we really need the support.”
“Having CSPS is going to bring people in. Once the NewBo City Market is in place, that’s going to bring a ton of people into New Bohemia,” she said. “And once the Czech Museum is finished, that’s just going to be fantastic.”
Organizers with the NewBo City Market launched a capital campaign this summer to raise about $3 million for the project. The market will feature independent vendors offering fresh local food and art. Leaders hope the market site will become a community meeting place, with festivals, concerts and events.
The market will be located on Third Street between 11th and 12th avenues SE. Volunteers have worked over the last two years to get the market project moving.
The Market Hall will likely include 10,000 square feet of space for vendor sales, 8,000 square feet for seating, gathering, event space, restrooms and storage. There will be available space for both permanent and seasonal vendors.
Ms. Rieckhoff expects that when the market is complete, it will draw people to the district.
“I would like to see more families down here. It’s a fun place to bring kids, walk around and walk across the river,” she said.
This summer, crews completed the major project of moving the NCSML to a new, higher site. Though the flood-damaged museum has moved, work on the project project will continue until summer 2012, when a grand reopening is planned.
The interest in the museum’s move and the construction process has helped generate business for the district, Ms. Rieckhoff said.
Following the reopening of the rebuilt museum in next year, it is projected NCSML annually will draw approximately 54,000 visitors and generate an economic impact of over $1.1 million for the Cedar Rapids area, according to a museum news release.
An interim museum gallery and museum gift shop was opened in the Kosek Building at 87 16th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids.
Cedar Rapids has been home to thousands of Czech, Moravian and Slovak immigrants and their descendents. Many more Czechs homesteaded and settled on farms and in small towns surrounding Cedar Rapids. The Czech Village is a restored section of what was the shopping district for many of those immigrants.
Czechoslovakians, known as Bohemians, began arriving in Cedar Rapids in 1852 to work in local packing plants, and soon after, a “Little Bohemia” neighborhood was established in the southwest part of the city. It is now known as Czech Village.