$2.4 million in renovations are under way

By John Kenyon

The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance will move this summer to the building that formerly housed the Science Station.

Renovations on the building, owned by 2001 Development Corp., are under way.

The alliance wants a new space because its current location in the offices of the former Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, 424 First Ave. NE, are not large enough to hold the staff. The alliance was formed this winter with the merger of the chamber, Priority One and the Cedar Rapids Downtown District.

A building task force spent 14 weeks last year to find the building and site that best fit the alliance’s needs. Fourteen sites were reviewed, seven were visited and four were finalists.

The new building renovation, designed by OPN Architects, will include several collaboration spaces that will be available for members/investors. That includes renovating the former IMAX theater space into offices.

The estimated cost to renovate the building is $2.4 million, of which $1.2 million will be funded through Iowa’s I-JOBS program.

Alliance President and CEO Dee Baird said the building will require extensive remodeling to be used by the alliance. A major part of the renovation revolves around the former IMAX theater space. What is essentially a cement cylinder will become home to most of the office space in the building. That requires removing the seating, screen and other aspects of the theater.

With alliance offices on the first floor, a second floor will be built above those that will house what Ms. Baird called an “innovation space” that will be used by alliance partners and investors, as well as other organizations.

A section of the cement wall will be removed on the river side to accommodate glass windows to make the space more outdoor-friendly, she said.

Other parts of the main floor will be used much as they were in the Science Station. The former education room will be a multipurpose room, while the glassed-in gift shop will become a board room. Restrooms will remain where they are as well.

The renovation will not involve any flood mitigation. Instead, the alliance will take steps like placing information technology and electrical infrastructure on the second floor, and will use furniture on the first floor that can be taken to the second floor in the event of a flood.

“The second floor is well above the last 500-year flood level,” Ms. Baird said. “We will build a contingency plan of where to go if this would happen again.”

She said the alliance’s decision to locate next to the river was an important one.

“Every day we are marketing this community and this region,” she said. “We have to be able to say with confidence that we are continuing to work on flood protection. We feel it is necessary to us to show our clients with confidence that we’ve taken such a strong stance as to put our organization right next to the river.”

The new space, which does not include the Paxton Building or the former fire station that also were part of the Science Station, is 17,500 square feet. That is significantly smaller than the 30,000 square feet in the economic commerce center plan proposed in 2010.

That plan was scrapped after the former chamber board of directors voted to return $3 million to the Economic Development Administration that had been granted to help fund the planned $6 million facility.

That funding would have required that the facility house 20,000 square feet of business incubator space for 20 years, something the board determined to be financially risky and unsustainable, Ms. Baird said.

The new space will not include incubator space, she added.

However, the new office will benefit from that earlier project.

“In the research done for the center, we learned a lot about creating a space that creates a culture of innovation,” she said. “So the research we did is informing the new space.”

The I-JOBS grant had been secured to serve as matching funds for the EDA funding. When the chamber passed on the EDA funds, it worked with the state to ensure that the I-JOBS funding still could be used on another project related to relocating the chamber, and subsequently the alliance.

“It is wonderful the state is willing to help us repurpose an iconic facility in this community,” Ms. Baird said.