Iconic ‘economic sense’ building to be reused as a donut shop, food service headquarters – Homegrown Iowan

The former BetterLife Building, shown in June 2022, would have been demolished under an earlier proposal, but will instead be reused in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo/Cindy Haddish)

Cedar Rapids, Iowa – Plans are underway to convert a site where neighbors came into play against a proposed store into a headquarters for Eastern Iowa Food Service and Dunkin’ Store.

Former BetterLife Building, 1900 First Ave. NE, which was built as the headquarters of the Western Fraternal Life Society in 1958, would have been demolished under the plans of Kwik Star, who had proposed an on-site convenience store and car wash.

Neighbors circulated a petition and attended meetings to protest the store, which would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with fuel pumps and a car wash.

Related: Residents reject QuickStar’s proposal

The iconic five-stone building in Cedar Rapids was built in 1958 and dedicated in 1959. (Photo/Cindy Haddish)

Instead, as first reported by Corridor Urbanism, the building will be repurposed, with a Dunkin’ concession on the top floor, which has direct access to the car park, offices, and bakery downstairs.

“We love the building,” said Andrea Farley, who oversees Dunkin’ Franchises — formerly known as Dunkin’ Donuts — for the Eastern Iowa Food Service. “It’s well built, it’s well made. You don’t see buildings like this anymore.”

Constructed with five types of stone, the building encompasses 7,500 square feet in each of its levels. It was then known as ZCBJ – for Západní Česko-Bratrská Jednota, or Western Bohemian Brotherhood Society, the building opened for a three-day ceremony during its dedication in 1959. The association provided life insurance and social contact with members’ Czech/Bohemian origins. The Brotherhood of Western Life, as it was later known, became BetterLife and moved its headquarters to Madison, Wisconsin, in 2021.

Interior features include long-lasting terrazzo floors in the entrance hall, various tile designs in the bathrooms and kitchen and details on the stair railings.

Among the features of the mid-century building are various designs of original tiles. (Photo/Cindy Haddish)

“It makes economic sense to save a building,” Farley said, referring to demolition costs and materials for new construction. “Constructing a building of lesser quality and beauty is very expensive. This building would cost a fortune if torn down and it’s beautiful, so we said, ‘Let’s make it work.'”

Eastern Iowa Food Service repurposed the Sonic Building in Coralville as a Dunkin’ Store, for example, while the Mid-Century BetterLife Building not only made economic sense to preserve, but had a history and character that added to its appeal, she said.

The family-owned company operates 17 Dunkin’ franchises in Iowa.

Farley said the Cedar Rapids site will be the first-ever corporate headquarters for Eastern Iowa Food Service, which has a separate division, Reif Oil Co. It is headquartered in Burlington.

She confirmed that there are no plans to set up a convenience store at the Cedar Rapids location.

In addition to offering a Dunkin’ menu of breakfast sandwiches, cakes, drinks, and more, the building will serve as a dedicated training site.

“We’ve never had a training facility, so that would be exciting,” Farley said, adding that plans call for an opening sometime in 2023.

These plans include a Dunkin’ Journey.

Seth Gunnerson, a zoning officer for the Cedar Rapids Development Services Department, said the city has reviewed a concept for the site, but has not received any development requests yet.

Gunnerson said the property, which is intended for a traditional mixed use center, or T-MC, likely would not require a public hearing if development is consistent with the area’s current area and meets all existing development standards.

“Because an administrative sitemap has not been formally submitted for review, we cannot be certain whether this project will require a public hearing,” he wrote in an email. “It is possible to develop the expulsion as described without a public hearing.”

Johnerson noted that the uses described by the Development Services Division for a restaurant, office, and commercial bakery are all permitted in that area, with annex passage allowed.

The city code requires a drive-through path behind or alongside buildings in traditional areas to maintain pedestrian access from the street.

The property includes a former church and a natural stone wall that was once part of an estate. (Photo/Cindy Haddish)

“Because the uses are permitted, there will be no public zoning unless they want to request a design exception from the development criteria,” Gunnerson wrote. “Based on our review, it is likely their project will be a building permit with a site plan review to improve the parking lot, but they are waiting to send us more detailed plans for review.”

It will be necessary to review staff and approve the administrative site plan before any building permits are issued.

Gunnerson added that the formal public entry for use at the site occurred when the T-MC district was designated during the city’s redistricting process, or when the parcel was originally designated commercially under the previous zoning code.

According to the city’s resident’s office, the site was sold for $1.3 million late last month.

The property includes a wall made of natural stone, which was once part of an estate, which the city’s Subcommittee on Historic Assets has requested to be included in the Cedar Rapids Historic Assets List. The site also includes the reorganized 1960s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building behind it – later the Hall of Odd Fellows – and a large vacant lot adjacent to both buildings.

Farley said there are currently no plans to build the church. The number of parking spaces required will depend on the city code, she said, citing classifying the property as the main challenge at the site.

Read more: Finding a new life to build a better life

A unique pattern of original floor tiles can be seen in the kitchen of the former BetterLife Building in late 2021. (Photo/Cindy Haddish)

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