CEDAR FALLS — You can’t go near downtown Cedar Falls without noticing the dramatic changes taking place there. Whether it’s the residential and commercial building going up between Washington and Clay streets on First Street or the six-story hotel under construction on First and Main streets, developers are changing the face — and the feel — of the city’s downtown district. But more subtle and longer term changes — which are now coming to fruition — have been in the works for years.
The Hampton Inn, which will grace the site where the Broom Factory Restaurant and Cedar Falls Chamber of Commerce buildings once stood, will feature 130 guest rooms, including double queen rooms and larger senior suites, a large meeting room and services for guests, according to Damen Trebildick, vice president of development with Hawkeye Hotels, the Coralville-based company building the multi-million dollar facility.
“Those five corner suites will have balconies with glass rails, a patio and wet bar,” he said. “And the view from the top floor is amazing. You can look right down Main Street.
“Cedar Falls is a growing market for hospitality rooms,” Trebildick said. “With the streetscape and the boutique-style businesses, we really wanted to be downtown.
“With the positioning of this hotel, the proximity to downtown, there isn’t anything comparable within a couple of miles,” he said.
Construction of the hotel began in July 2018 and it is about 60 percent complete, Trebildick said.
“We expect to be done by late spring or early summer,” he said. “Our goal is to be open for the Sturgis Falls Celebration. That’s what we are trying to hit.
“This is a big investment for us,” he said. “We own and operate more than 50 hotels and have 25 in construction.
“Cedar Falls has been able to bring people downtown and attract outside investors. We’re very excited to join the community.”
Just a block away, Arabella, the mostly residential building being built on Washington and First streets is a project Brent Dahlstrom and Jim Sulentic are partnering on. Neither are newcomers to bringing construction projects to the Cedar Valley.
Sulentic alone owns five buildings on Main Street in Cedar Falls, and he’s excited about Arabella.
“This is the best project we’ve ever done,” he said. “The retail space is spoken for, and I expect to have the place completely rented out by the time it is finished.”
Arabella, which will feature 50 residential units — 46 studio apartments and four two-bedroom units — is expected to be complete this summer, bringing even more people to reside in the downtown district — a trend started by Mark Kittrell, owner and CEO of Eagle View Partners, with River Place Apartments on State Street.
Kittrell continues to put his mark on the downtown district. His company acquired the Blackhawk Hotel as well as the former Wells Fargo building. The bank building and drive-thru are being demolished, and new buildings are expected to be constructed there.
Another of Kittrell’s downtown properties, Mill Race — a co-working space and kind of business incubator — is bearing fruit as well. Emergent Architecture has made the move from Mill Race and set up a storefront in the downtown district.
Not as glamorous, but certainly necessary, is the ongoing levee work that will resume in the spring.
“We are going through and extending the levee two feet from the Ice House Museum to the Western Home’s downtown campus,” said Matthew Tolan, a civil engineer with the city of Cedar Falls. “That will be an increase of 2.77 feet over the crest of the 2008 flood.”
The levee work started in November 2017 and is expected to be done in June.
The levee consists of a mix of systems, Tolan said. “The structural wall made of concrete starts at the Ice House and goes to the First Street bridge. Then there is an earthen levee, which is a clay mound with topsoil and seed, that goes to the waste water treatment plant.”
The remaining work is aesthetic.
“We’ll be installing decorative wall caps and painting and adding lights,” Tolan said.
Crews also will restore the flower beds at Peter Melendy Park, add new sidewalks and reinstall lighting, and will do work on the proposed downtown plaza at State and Second streets — as part of new trail connections — by adding stairs, a retaining wall and planter beds.
The work is being financed with a $6.6 million flood mitigation grant from the Iowa Homeland Emergency Management Department.
“We don’t expect to use the entire amount on the levee,” Tolan said.
With all that is going on, it is an exciting time for the downtown district, as Carol Lilly, executive director of Cedar Falls Community Main Street, will attest.
“We’re seeing a period of pretty dramatic growth and changes to the downtown area,” she said.” I anticipate that is just going to continue.There is a lot of interest in investing in the downtown right now.”
Lilly credits some of that success to what she says is the continued focus and constant attention that has been put on the district.
“I think it’s been a lot of the businesses and volunteers who appreciate and know what a healthy downtown means to the greater community. The small things add up,” she said. “Those details matter.”
When people want to hang out somewhere, there are people who will want to invest in that location.
Lilly says that is due in no small part to Community Main Street and the National Main Street initiatives.
“There is a set pattern and flow, a methodical approach to development,” she said. “The mix of businesses. We help identify what type of business would be a good fit. When you have a strong base, that builds traffic. And people can walk along and enjoy the aesthetics. It all works together. And we have been celebrating each small success along the way.
“We are continually trying to improve, to attract investors and better what it is like to live, to work, to have a business downtown. Having Community Main Street helps because we constantly keep downtown in the community’s consciousness. That’s part of the reason we keep thriving.”
It’s a lot of hard work and deliberate, conscious decisions that have been made that help it stay a thriving downtown.
The addition of a multitude of apartments to the district expands the focus of all involved with Main Street.
“I think the downtown residents are looking for a place to connect,” Lilly said. “Their focus is on experiencing everything downtown has to offer. We need to be seeking businesses that help the residents’ experience. Those extra touches you won’t get when you shop online or go through a drive-thru restaurant. It’s a different experience when you are in a business. And I think our businesses are embracing the downtown residents.”
“It has brought changes. You will see more foot traffic at different times of day, people walking their dogs up and down the street. Residents are bringing a different feel to the downtown.”
Lilly, like a lot of people, is keeping an eye on the parking situation in the district.
“Our organization has done a lot to keep ahead of the curve,” she said. “The city has recognized we are at least at the cusp of that curve and has brought in an outside entity (referring to a recent parking study for the area). ... It will be interesting to see what happens next. I think we will be seeing some changes.
Following a parking survey and two public meetings, the city recently voted to implement recommendations from the parking study.
Lilly also is anxious for the downtown streetscape project to begin.
“It’s a four-year plan,” she said. “We are trying to expand the look and feel of Main Street to the surrounding streets. There will be decorative light poles, more banners and flowers, hub areas, benches, bike racks and trash cans.
“We are trying to improve the walkability of the district and we’ve been working really hard to give the residents a beautiful, safe and comfortable downtown district.”