Developer Ryan Cos. plans new senior living facility along Collins Road

CEDAR RAPIDS — Developers Ryan Companies and Grand Living plan to build a 164-unit senior living center along First Avenue and Collins Road NE on land purchased from Indian Creek Nature Center.

The purchase of eight acres of land from the nature center was finalized Wednesday for $1 million. The plot was part of a 35-acre gift in 2010 to the nature center from local philanthropist Carleen Grandon and her husband.

The 164-unit, four-story building will include a mix of independent, assisted living and memory care living spaces, said Eric Anderson, vice president of development and senior housing developer for Minnesota-based Ryan Companies.

Grand Living will operate the 200,000-square-foot facility.

The developers plan to begin work this summer and open the facility in late 2018.

When Grandon and her husband, Eugene, donated the land, it was their intention that the 35 acres be sold with the money benefiting the nature center, said John Myers, the center’s executive director.

“It was never her intention to protect the land,” Myers said.

Members of the nature center board of directors and the national Association of Nature Center Administrators determined that the 35 acres — bordering the back of Collins Road, Slumberland, Gordmans and Home Depot — would not be easily accessible for nature center visitors.

About eight acres of the plot also used to be a nine-hole golf course that since has deteriorated into sandy, eroded soil and brushy undergrowth, Myers said. That section lacked “ecological value,” Myers said.

“It had a lot of sand, not a lot of native trees … things that honestly are not providing any good habitat now,” Myers said. “The soil is eroding because there are no good grasses holding it in place.”

In 2012, the Cedar Rapids City Council allowed those eight acres to be rezoned into commercial property.

However, the nature center found that the remaining 27 acres was worth conserving, Myers said. Strong and healthy oak, walnut and maple trees remain on the land. Other loose-bark trees provide a roosting spot for Indian bats that control the mosquito population. Brush provides a safe habitat for birds and raccoons.

“As much of that area is getting developed as you go out toward East Post Road, it’s not uncommon to see deer and turkey,” Myers said. “Those animals are not going to have a place to go (if the 27 acres are developed). Now, there will always be a space for those species.”

Myers said Grandon is thrilled the nature center gained $1 million out of the sale of the land.

“It really achieves her goal as well as our goal to protect land,” he said.

The center will invest $700,000 of the $1 million into an endowed fund at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. Another $200,000 will finance the building of a land protection workshop near the Amazing Space on the Indian Creek Nature Center grounds.

The workshop is what Myers calls a “dirty classroom” where visitors can learns from hands-on projects, such as how to plant gardens or use chain saws to prune plants.

The remaining $100,000 will go toward the center’s cash reserves.

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