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City Vows Cedar Bend Decisions
Delegation Tells Vision Iowa Board It Will Determine Support By April

Rick Smith

The Gazette

February 9, 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.]

   PERRY — Cedar Rapids council member Brian Fagan told the Vision Iowa Board here Wednesday that the city will know by April if it wants to try to keep its $5 million state grant to help fund the proposed Cedar Bend redevelopment project.

   Fagan promised that the city won’t ask the state board to continue to support Cedar Bend if the city, two months from now, can’t show it fully supports its own project.

   Fagan led a modest threemember City Hall delegation to the state board’s meeting at Hotel Pattee in Perry with hat in hand: Cedar Rapids had failed by a mid-January deadline to raise more than $6 million in new, private funds for Cedar Bend as stipulated in its contract with the Vision Iowa Board.

   Fagan explained to the board that Cedar Rapids city government was in transition, with a new form of government and nine new council members.

   In turn, the state board agreed that the new council could have until April to make some decisions about the Cedar Bend project that the new council inherited.

   The time extension, though, did not come without veteran Vision Iowa Board member Mary Ellen Chamberlain of Davenport letting Fagan know that she wasn’t pleased with the status of Cedar Bend.

   Chamberlin told Fagan that she was ‘‘alarmed’’ by a letter from Cedar Rapids’ city leaders wondering if the city could somehow now modify the project, which won its $5 million Vision Iowa award in October 2004.

   The state board had not done that in the past and should not set a precedent now, Chamberlin insisted. She said Cedar Rapids needed to move ahead on the project or relinquish its award.

   Fagan, who accompanied Mayor Kay Halloran and others to Des Moines last month to lobby Andy Anderson, the Vision Iowa Board chairman, for more time, assured Chamberlin that he now understood that a major modification of Cedar Bend is not an option if the city wants to keep its Vision Iowa grant.

   ‘‘We know we can’t go backward, but we can go forward,’’ Fagan told Chamberlin.

   Fagan said Cedar Rapids wanted no special treatment.

   That sent Chamberlin into a history lesson and what she characterized as Cedar Rapids’ checkered track record with the Vision Iowa Board.

   As she told it, five years ago Cedar Rapids said it wouldn’t seek a Vision Iowa grant, and instead, sought and won money for smaller Community Attraction & Tourism grants. Then the city won a $10.5 million Vision Iowa grant, but the project, RiverRun, ‘‘failed.’’ Then the city reworked the project into Cedar Bend, ‘‘and it hasn’t gone anywhere,’’ she said.

   Anderson suggested that ‘‘some of this may be why they have a new government.’’

   Fagan said Cedar Rapids’ old, commission form of government could be ‘‘inefficient,’’ adding that ‘‘I understand our credibility is at stake.’’ He assured Chamberlin that Cedar Rapids residents were unhappy that Cedar Bend isn’t finished.

   ‘‘Their frustration is what is not finished, mine is what is not started,’’ Chamberlin said.

   At-large council member Fagan was accompanied by District 3 council member Jerry McGrane and Gary Hughes, the city’s grants and programs manager.

   Fagan’s address to the board came at the very end of the 3 1/2-hour Vision Iowa meeting, and his comments followed a succession of presentations from communities with fresh projects seeking or being awarded Community Attraction & Tourism grants for smaller projects.

   All of the Vision Iowa money for larger projects — $226.55 million — has been handed out.

   After the meeting, Fagan, McGrane and Hughes, each said one ‘‘realistic alternative,’’ as Hughes put it, is for the city to relinquish the Vision Iowa grant.

   The city could then proceed with one part of the Cedar Bend proposal at a time. It consists of a community center, park and lake. The city then might consider approaching the Vision Iowa Board for a Community Attraction & Tourism grant to help in the one-project-at-atime approach, the three said.

   Fagan said he believes that Cedar Rapids residents ‘‘want something to happen’’ in the city. He is involved in the Fifteen in 5 planning effort that has its own list of community projects, some of which are similar to Cedar Bend.

   ‘‘There are a lot of ideas that need to come together,’’ Fagan said. ‘‘We need to get everybody on the same page.’’

   Having until April to decide on the Vision Iowa grant will give the city time ‘‘to align our priorities,’’ he said.