Steve Emerson's downtown plans

One developer. Four projects. 114 new apartments.

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Spouses. Artists. Teachers. Nonprofits. Bankers. Startup community is for you.

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What if we can't fix 380?

There’s no good solution to congestion.

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Innovation Index

All the latest tech, startup and entrepreneurship news for Iowa’s Creative Corridor.


Future cities

Leading thoughts on new urbanism, curated by Ben Kaplan

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The state of core housing

At least 29 projects, with a total of 783 new residential units, have been built, proposed, or are under construction in the core of Cedar Rapids. These projects range in size from rehabbed historic homes converted to mixed-use to 96 unit apartment buildings in redeveloped historic buildings. There hasn’t been this level of investment and energy geared towards building residential in these neighborhoods for nearly half a century. The city has used the 2008 flood as a catalyst for investment in downtown, Kingston, and New Bohemia. The McGrath Amphitheatre, Downtown Library, and NewBo Market have reinvigorated downtown and surrounding neighborhoods along the river (with the notable exclusion of the Northwest). Seven years after the flood these public projects have brought the heart of civic life into downtown. Uptown Friday Nights, Meet me at the Market and the Downtown Farmers Market are profoundly successful public events. Two new towers are being built in the heart of downtown, and companies large and small have moved into office space into these neighborhoods. Cedar Rapids is hardly alone in the return of civic, residential and economic life to it’s historic core. The return to the city is one of the defining aspects of this era of American history. While much of the focus is on America’s largest cities, or cities that loom large in the American imagination like Portland and Pittsburgh, the rebirth of urbanism is a comprehensive national trend. What does this mean for Cedar Rapids? The return of housing, specifically multifamily housing, into the core is the vital component that will allow the continued and prolonged revitalization of these core neighborhoods.... read more

University of Iowa students pursue local, global opportunity with Swineguard

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Swineguard went from idea to accelerator in a matter of months. It was just earlier this year when Matt Rooda, Swineguard’s CEO and a former junior at the University of Iowa, was dreaming up a device that would help protect very young piglets from being crushed in farrowing facilities. By August, Rooda had assembled a team, developed his business model, and was taking a hiatus from school to be part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 class. “[Being accepted] kind of gave us more belief in ourselves, that maybe what we have is something pretty good,” Rooda said. Pork farmers around the world are feeling pressure as the increasing global population pushes demand for meat higher. Every piglet that dies at a young age is a missed opportunity. The young founder saw the problem first hand when he was working as an assistant farm manager at a pork facility. Swineguard is prototyping a device that would be installed in farrowing crates. When a sow started to lay on one of her piglets, producing a prolonged squeal, the device would deliver a gentle shock that would prod her to stand up again. Rooda heard of a summer program at the UI, and soon Swineguard was one of 11 teams in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s summer edition of Venture School, which was just for students. He recruited three friends to become co-founders, who went out in the field to meet with farmers and veterinarians and refine their business model canvas.... read more

Developer Steve Emerson’s plans for downtown

Steve Emerson, President of Aspect architecture:design wants Cedar Rapids to have a bustling downtown. So he’s building it. Since the flood over 650 new or rehabbed residential units are either planned, under construction or completed in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Aspect’s share of that total is substantial. The company has plans for 114 to 130 new residential units across four projects. Each project is a conversion of an existing historic commercial structure into housing. “The core needs that housing component to succeed,” said Emerson. More people living downtown will make downtown safer and encourage retail to move in, said Emerson. He used Des Moines, which has seen its downtown come back to life, as an example. “Des Moines has 10,000 units downtown,” said Emerson, “Cedar Rapids has 1,000.” Two of Aspect’s projects are in the heart of downtown: The former Illinois Gas and Electric Company building at 323 3rd Street SE and Smulekoff’s building at 97 3rd Ave SW. Aspect is waiting to take ownership of the Smulekoff’s building while the city figures out what’s necessary for flood protection. The need for flood protection meant the historic building probably couldn’t remain a retail space, Emerson said. “We’ll likely have to lose the loading dock in the back,” he said. The flood wall and pumping stations will make the already narrow space between the back of the building and the river even narrower. Aspect’s plan for the Smulekoff’s building feature a ground floor event center, either one or two stories of office space and two or three stories of “micro-unit” apartments, with 16 apartments per floor. The final use of the third floor hasn’t been... read more

What drives neighborhood stigma?

A while back I wrote that the negative reputation of the Wellington Heights neighborhood boiled down to simple racism. That’s a hefty statement. That’s why I wanted to draw attention to a summary of two recent studies that dive into what drives neighborhood stigma and what the consequences are for a stigmatized neighborhood. Daniel Hertz, writing at City Observatory, goes over studies from Harvard and NYU that deal with neighborhood stigma. The results? Neighborhood stigma is influenced more by the race or immigrant status of residents than by poverty, crime or the amount of drugs. That’s worth repeating: race is a bigger driver of neighborhood stigma than poverty, crime or drug use. “Communities acquire a reputation for being ‘sketchy’ to some extent independently of whether or not that ‘sketchiness’ is real—and in a way that’s heavily influenced by racism.” Hertz wrote.  “Once they have a bad reputation, however, the stigma helps create the very problems it warns others away from—in part by causing people to avoid the neighborhood.” Not only is stigma more closely tied to race than actual bad stuff, stigma results in the creation of actual bad stuff! Neighborhood stigma is a driver for increasing poverty, increasing crime and increasing drug abuse. Stigma creates an incentive for disinvestment that can be a sinkhole for a neighborhood. Check out the the whole article on City Observatory.... read more

Serial entrepreneur, community builder guides Iowa Startup Accelerator’s first corporate innovation team

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Trevor Carlson is a familiar face to the Eastern Iowa startup community. He’s been involved in organizing 1 Million Cups, Startup Weekend and other meetups in the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area, as well as being involved with several startups himself. “I kind of fell into the entrepreneurial scene on accident,” he said. His first venture was when a friend wanted to start a Korean fusion food cart – that went under within a year. But, Carlson learned from the experience and kept moving forward. “I just kept experimenting with different things, I found a bunch of stuff that didn’t work pretty quickly,” he said. “Up until a year or so ago, I was going ‘I wish somebody would make this, or have this event,’” He said, “Finally, I woke up and went, ‘well, I’ll just do it.’ I’m not very good at asking for permission.” Carlson was recently brought on staff by Geonetric to work on CareDrop, a corporate innovation project, during the Iowa Startup Accelerator. Geonetric makes websites, intranets and marketing materials for hospitals. CEO Eric Engelmann is also the managing director of the Iowa Startup Accelerator, and has been a vocal proponent for agile and other innovation techniques in the Corridor. Since CareDrop is a corporate innovation project, or an internal startup owned by Geonetric, the startup didn’t take the typical $20,000 in seed funding at the beginning of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s program. Other than that, Engelmann said Carlson will be put through the... read more

Brothers, friends turned founders want to take a bite out of unemployment with Home Scene Pro

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Instead of struggling to find a job, Jurell Tanksley decided to make his own – and now his startup, Home Scene Pro, wants to help many more students and recent grads forge their own paths. Tanksley was studying accounting when he saw that many of his friends were unable to find jobs in their fields after graduation – they were either unemployed or languishing in low-skill underemployment. He imagined a way for students to build up their portfolios with short-term gigs and real world experience. So, about a year ago, he left school and recruited his brother Jason and longtime friend Brandon Brown to launch Home Scene Pro. “It was scary – but the uncertainty of graduating and not getting a job was scary as well,” he said. In August, Home Scene Pro came from New York City to Cedar Rapids to be part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator. Their major goal for the 90-day program is to hone their pitch and marketing messages. The first day, when they pitched to their classmates and the media, showed the co-founders the importance of clarity. “That first day really set the tone for the rest of the program,” Jason said. Students who sign up on Home Scene Pro can enter their skills, mostly in design-centric areas like photography, interior decorating or personal chef services. When a customer in the area orders a project, the students get an alert that a job is available. The customers, in turn, pay... read more

Lessons learned in Dev/Iowa 2015

Last week Dev/Iowa, the nine-week programming course I was part of this summer, wrapped up. Instructor Steve Davis gave a presentation on the program at 1 Million Cups (see that below for an overview of how the course worked) and we pushed our projects live online, ready or not. It was a small class, with just three students, but focusing on individual projects let us get a lot done in a short amount of time. I’m not about to become a full-time programmer any time soon, but the class definitely gave me more confidence when dealing with all things tech, and in the future I’ll at least know where to look for answers and helpful starting points. here’s an overview of my project After nine weeks, my project is definitely not done (my infographic is a bit of a mess), and hopefully my learning isn’t either. That said, here are some of the biggest things I’ll try to remember from this summer: Dive into the deep end My earlier forays into learning to code were all online, using some of the many free tools available. I’d dutifully start each time at the beginning of an HTML course, believing the way to learn was to master each thing before moving on to the next (HTML before CSS, CSS before JavaScript). I’d also frequently lose interest and abandon learning for a few months. In Dev/Iowa, there was no time for that. Most weeks had a theme – say, version control with Git, writing to a file, or structuring a database – but we hardly went in-depth. For each new skill, we... read more

A sneak peek of NewBo West

NewBo West, conveniently located in Czech Village, is a (sort-of) new mixed-use building at 1612 C Street SW. I say sort of new because the “mixed” part of the mixed-use is a two story addition of 10 apartments onto a retail building built in 1951. There’s roughly 3000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor (right now it’s split into two spaces), five two bedroom apartments and five one bedroom apartments. They should be move in ready by September of 2015.* The space for the apartments utilizes an unconventional floor plan. Nine of the apartments are entered through the second floor hallway. One unit is entered from the rear of the building and is handicap accessible (the building does not have an elevator). Of the nine upstairs units, eight have two stories. All of the two-bedroom units second story run the entire length of the building east to west. All of the two story apartments also have balconies off of the living room. Every unit will have an in-unit washer and dryer. Four of the ten units are income-restricted to households making 80% of median income or less. This is the same income restriction level as the 10th Street Brickstones. Here’s the income breakdown: One person can make up to $43,750. Two People can make a combined amount up to $50,000 Three people can make a combined amount up to $56,250 Rents aren’t final yet, but should be close to comparable apartments in the area. Expect a few hundred dollar premium if you don’t qualify for the income restrictions. The commercial space is projected to rent at $14 per square foot plus... read more