The Czech Village New Bohemia Main Street District announces the second annual Robert Chadima Visionary Awards. The award will be presented annually to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the district and reflect Robert Chadima’s vision of entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity for the neighborhood.
The event will take place at the NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, IA on April 11th, 2018. Doors open at 11:30am with program and luncheon beginning at 12:00. This year’s honorees, Jane Gilmor and Gail Naughton, will be recognized for their contributions to establishing anchors for creativity and heritage; acting as catalysts for continued revitalization. Their contributions helped to establish this District as the premiere cultural center of Cedar Rapids.
Tickets for the event may be reserved at: https://chadimavisionaryaward.eventbrite.com
Robert Chadima originally acquired the historic Cherry Building in 1976 to house his welding and industrial supply business, Thorarc Company. From the outset, his priority was to make loft studio spaces in the Cherry Building available to local artists. In the 1980s, he turned to Jane Gilmor to help recruit artists that might be interested in studio space. His vision was to repurpose the Cherry Building as an incubator for entrepreneurs and artists – with a passion for creativity being the common denominator.
Back then Third Street was known as a “Brown Field”, not “New Bohemia.” It was a proud old ethnic neighborhood with some strong bones, but the neighborhood was definitely in a severe state of decline. “Vision” means having the ability to see beyond what is before your eyes and imagine what it can become. Chadima had that in spades. Pursuing his vision required a life-long commitment, even when it didn’t appear to make any economic sense. Over the years he eventually sold his welding and industrial supply business, but kept the Cherry Building and other commercial properties to pursue his unique vision of repurposing historic buildings as creative spaces for artists and entrepreneurs
In 1990, Jane Gilmor, a transplant from New York, rented the upper story of the nearby CSPS Building. She was drawn to the area because of its affordable rents and raw industrial buildings that made great exhibition spaces for her students at Mount Mercy. Within the year, she had invited Legion Arts to move into the CSPS Building, creating a second pillar for creativity and the arts in the New Bohemia neighborhood. The arts organization brings visual and performing arts from around the world to Cedar Rapids.
In 1999 Robert Chadima’s son and daughter in law, David and Lijun Chadima, moved back to Cedar Rapids and not only bought a 50% share in the commercial properties, they also bought into his vision of repurposing old buildings to develop a new, creative neighborhood that was authentic and unique to Cedar Rapids. Chadima’s vision began to spread beyond the Cherry Building in the early 2000s. A group of local artists and entrepreneurs got together in the Cherry Building to form the New Bohemia Group, and formally re-named the neighborhood “New Bohemia.”
At the same time property owners were investing in the potential of the district to become something big. They focused on restoring the historic architecture and resurrecting the vibrancy of the Czech Village and New Bohemia neighborhoods to their former glory. For example what started as a small Czech Heritage foundation had grown into the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library with a brand new building along the river dedicated in 1995.
These efforts were nearly derailed by the flood of 2008, with the Cherry Building, CSPS Hall, National Czech & Slovak Museum and virtually all the historic buildings in the district receiving catastrophic flood damage. Even though Chadima was well into his 80s by this time, his indomitable spirit and commitment to the vision helped him persevere and pave the way for the “Post-flood Renaissance.” The post-flood recovery was a catalyst for the development of the whole district, and was a great source of pride and sense of accomplishment for Chadima.
Chadima was the first to recognize the development of the district had to be a community enterprise shared by like-minded individuals like Gilmor and Naughton. Gail Naughton, who had become President and CEO of the National Czech & Slovak Museum in 2002, was instrumental in bringing the community development efforts together. In 2008, she began gathering community leaders, including Lijun Chadima, to establish a Main Street District to provide support and tools to property and business owners. It included incentives to preserve and restore historic buildings – to keep the sense of place and uniqueness that is so important. By helping revitalize the neighborhood, it could become even more than before the flood. “We needed all the help we could get and Main Street was a proven model.” After her tireless dedication to not only revitalizing and strengthening the Museum, but also to stewarding the rehabilitation of several properties in Czech Village, Gail Naughton will be retiring this year.
Robert Chadima would be honored to have this award given in his name to the outstanding recipients recognized today.