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C.R. Among Thirsty Vision Cities

Government Notes

The Gazette

February 12, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

CEDAR RAPIDS — The trips by Cedar Rapids delegations to Vision Iowa board meetings have been numerous over the four-plus years the city has tried to figure out how to get — and keep — a piece of the Vision Iowa action.
   Increasingly, though, Cedar Rapids has appeared last or nearly so on the agenda at the state’s board meetings as the city has struggled to keep its act together.
   Now, the city seems apt to relinquish its $5 million Vision Iowa grant unless the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Fifteen in 5 community planning initiative and some private big players join forces with the new City Council to show they want to keep the money.
   Last Wednesday’s Vision Iowa board meeting, at the Hotel Pattee in downtown Perry, was more of the same.
   A three-man City Hall delegation, led by at-large council member Brian Fagan, sat for more than three hours and watched as small city after small city came in front of the Vision Iowa Board to sell fresh, smaller projects.
   Each was seeking a Community Attraction and Tourism grant, which the Vision Iowa board awards as well as the larger Vision Iowa grants.
   The atmosphere was upbeat.
   Then it came time for old business.
   Several communities were asking for extensions of completion deadlines. But all the projects were well along, if not nearing completion — except for Cedar Rapids’ Cedar Bend project, which has barely begun.
   Wednesday’s meeting in the hotel was held in a room with a C h i n e s e proverb imprinted on the wall behind the board members’ chairs. The proverb reads, ‘‘When you drink from the well, remember the well-digger.’’
   When it was his turn to speak, council member Fagan noted to the board that he had stared at the proverb at great length and that it made him think of the board as the well-digger.
   The board, he said, was engineering the Vision Iowa program and keeping it going, rationing grants to the many communities who come to drink from the well.
   ‘‘I realize there are a lot of thirsty communities,’’ Fagan told the board. ‘‘And we’re not going to ask you to move forward on our project if we don’t have the community’s full support.’’
   He told the board Cedar Rapids would know about the support by April.
   The Vision Iowa board has handed out a total of $226.55 million — all it has — to 13 big projects across the state.
   Cedar Rapids had $10.5 million when its brownfield/ landfill reclamation project was called RiverRun. When that failed, the city ended with $5 million in October 2004 for RiverRun’s scaledback follower, Cedar Bend.
   Cedar Bend has barely moved since.
   To date, the city has paid a private fundraising consultant about $60,000 on the project, and that fundraiser, Helen Arnold-Olson, asked the city to suspend her contract when she found that no one wanted to donate new money to the project.
   The city also has paid a marketing firm about $50,000 to promote Cedar Bend and has paid a design consultant about $133,000 to come up with a preliminary design for Cedar Bend Lake. The lake, a former water-filled, industrial sandpit, is one of three central components of Cedar Bend. A community center and a park with trails are the others.
   The lake consultant’s work has only complicated the project. The $3.6-million lake — the least expensive of the Cedar Bend features — now is expected to cost $8 million to $14 million.
   Where that extra money would come from, when the entire Cedar Bend project was once thought to cost $34 million, is a question the community will have to answer in the next few weeks.

Scanner talk was ’unfortunate use of words’

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids police said a senior police officer chose an ‘‘unfortunate use of words’’ when the officer radioed others involved in a traffic operation, ‘‘All right, boys and girls, it’s all about quantity.’’
   Police Lt. Chuck Mincks said the officer felt that three probationary officers, involved in the enforcement project along Interstate 380, were taking too long to write citations.
   The officer’s comment was overheard by a scanner listener, who complained to police.
   Officers are not required to write a certain number of tickets, Mincks emphasized, noting state law forbids such quotas.
   ‘‘It was in no way meant to be a condescending comment, nor an intentional reference to quotas, and this officer has never had any problems with that before,’’ Mincks said.
   This weekly column is written by Gazette government reporters Rick Smith, Dick Hogan and Zack Kucharski, with an assist this week from reporter Christoph Trappe. The column appears on Sundays.