United Fire Group’s downtown expansion taking shape

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids’s original skyscraper is taking shape as new space for homegrown insurance company United Fire Group.

Contractors have gutted the inside of the American Building downtown as they prepare for its new look, part of a multimillion-dollar expansion project that also will see a brand-new building rise on First Avenue. United Fire recently gave The Gazette a tour of the building.

While much of the outside remains as it was, crews have taken the building’s interior down to the bare bones, exposing clay tiles on the ceiling. Scaffolding stairs have replaced the former elevator.

When opened to the elements, the western side presents a view clear across the Cedar River — one that the new addition’s large windows should let employees enjoy.

United Fire purchased the 103-year-old American Building, 101 Second Street SE, in December 2013. At the time, United Fire CEO Randy Ramlo called the $1.96 million purchase a “defensive” move in terms of its commercial space downtown.

The company announced the expansion in June 2015.

The UFG on First project will combine a conversion of the American Building with an adjacent 10-story building newly constructed along First Avenue SE. It will add 110,000-square-feet of new office space, bringing United Fire’s campus to more than 400,000 square feet.

Converted basement space will make way for 50 new parking stalls, joining 240 the company has in an aboveground parking garage.

The company also has proposed a rooftop patio and a private skywalk connection as part of its construction plans.

United Fire currently has 555 of its 1,136 employees downtown, a spokeswoman said in an email. It will be the only occupant of the new space.

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