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Golden Goose or Albatross?
February 6, 2006
[Note: This material is copyright
by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use"
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the prior approval of The Gazette.]
CEDAR RAPIDS — Vision Iowa money was intended as a boost for the state’s
big cities and their plans to create attractions that would draw people
here now are trying to figure out if its $5 million Vision Iowa award —
granted 16 months ago for the Cedar Bend redevelopment project — is worth
fighting to keep or is better forgotten.
soon to know what will happen,’’ Mayor Kay Halloran said late last week.
board president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, weighed in
last week, saying the chamber continues to support the city’s Vision Iowa
It is the chamber’s
own Fifteen in 5 community planning venture, not the Cedar Bend proposal,
though, that seems to have become the newer, fresher vehicle for moving
the city ahead.
Fifteen in 5 and Cedar Bend — which share some of the same ideas, such
as a community/activity center, riverfront improvement and parks and trails
—can work together.
She hopes the
city does not give back the Vision Iowa grant: ‘‘Five million dollars is
five million dollars.’’
a City Hall delegation will troop to Des Moines to formally ask the Vision
Iowa Board to extend its contract with the city and its Cedar Bend project
until April. The board chairman said last month he expected the board to
grant the request. The city is asking because it has not raised more than
$6 million in additional private funds for the project. It was supposed
to have done so by mid-January.
city can find that money is a big question. Another problem is that the
project price tag — once at $34 million — has gone up, and it’s far from
clear where that extra money would come from.
is now long and winding when it comes to the city’s vision for the landfill,
the brownfield areas south of downtown and an old sandpit along the Cedar
But the redevelopment
project consists of three core components, which the $5 million Vision
Iowa grant is intended to help support:
center featuring a year-round farmers market and space for the Witwer Senior
Center, education classes and public gatherings.
A park and
trails on and around the landfill, which is slated to close this summer.
A lake in what
had been a water-filled, industrial sandpit.
the city is moving ahead on its own with $6 million in street and streetscape
improvements on Third Street SE and 14th Avenue SE in a portion of the
Cedar Bend area also tagged as New Bohemia or the Third Street Arts and
is a promotional picture of a riverfront amphitheater if the day comes
that a private investor wants to build one.
council member Sarah Henderson, who has been and remains involved in the
Fifteen and 5 effort, calls herself ‘‘an optimist,’’ but said last week
the Cedar Bend problems remain formidable.
A case in point
is the recreational lake component of Cedar Bend, which had been expected
to cost $3.6 million. One plan now has the price tag in the $12 million
to $13 million range, including a waterside lodge. Even without the lodge,
costs are at least twice what had been expected, Henderson said.
one possible, lingering impediment to raising private funds for Cedar Bend
is the presence of the old Farmstead Food plant, owned privately and sitting
in the heart of the Cedar Bend area.
The city, she
noted, also has promised the Vision Iowa board that the solid waste agency’s
compost operation would move off the landfill site by 2009 to make way
for a park. But where is that compost operation going to go, Henderson
wondered. Can the agency, she asked, find a place for compost by 2009?
Vernon last week did not dispute that most of the recent Fifteen in 5 committee
update reports failed to make any mention of Cedar Bend.
‘‘It may seem
like they’re two different things, and we’re at cross-purposes,’’ Vernon
said. ‘‘But I don’t see it that way at all.
new City Council and a new mayor, who has done a very nice job of reaching
out. I just see a lot of great things coming.’’
much of the Fifteen in 5 focus is on strengthening the downtown. And her
definition of downtown extends to include the Cedar Bend area.
is to Cedar Rapids’ downtown as the Navy Pier is to Chicago’s, she suggested:
‘‘It’s part of our core community along the banks of the river.’’
that Des Moines, Dubuque and Davenport have all used Vision Iowa money
to reinvigorate their downtowns.
a member of the Fifteen in 5 committee focusing on the Third Street Arts
and Entertainment District, said last week that Fifteen in 5 and Cedar
Bend should ‘‘integrate their efforts.’’
The city, he
added, should do all it can to keep the $5 million Vision Iowa grant.
‘‘Do you know,’’
he asked, ‘‘how hard it is to raise $5 million?’’