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A Dream Deferred

C.R. Council Majority Favors Giving Back Cedar Bend Grant

Rick Smith

The Gazette

February 28, 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 — None of the 12 Iowa communities, which have won a total of $226 million in Vision Iowa grants in recent years, has relinquished its state funds — until now.

    A majority of the nine Cedar Rapids City Council members say they are now prepared to vote to give up the $5 million Vision Iowa grant for the city’s stalled, financially suspect Cedar Bend redevelopment proposal.

    The Vision Iowa board awarded the grant in October 2004, and since then the city has been unable to raise $6.7 million in new, private money for the project. At the same time, the project’s cost has grown and likely will continue to grow.

    At-large council member Pat Shey on Monday said the Vision Iowa grant provides too little help as costs continue to escalate for what had been a $34 million Cedar Bend proposal. Shey also pointed to a vote in 2003 against a local-option sales tax to support RiverRun — an earlier version of Cedar Bend — and said, ‘‘People don’t support this project.’’

    He said a consensus of council members now feels it’s time to start anew.

    ‘‘Rather than trying to fix something we inherited, can we come up with something else that would . . . be a great fit for Cedar Rapids?’’ he said.

    At-large council member Brian Fagan on Monday said, ‘‘No one likes giving back $5 million. But I’m inclined to support sending the money back.’’

    He said plenty of enthusiasm and commitment still exists for a project in the ‘‘core’’ of the community even without the state grant.

    At-large council member Tom Podzimek went on the record weeks ago saying the Vision Iowa grant was too little money for a project that still needs millions in local money.

    ‘‘The grant is like a coupon that comes in the mail,’’ Podzimek said Monday. ‘‘It is valuable if you use it to procure a product that you want, need and can afford.’’

    He said the city not only can’t afford the current Cedar Bend idea — which features a community center with a farmers market, a park on the soon-to-close landfill and a recreational lake in a former sandpit operation — but has better ideas in the Fifteen in 5 community planning initiative.

    Podzimek predicted that all nine members of the new City Council would vote to relinquish the Vision Iowa money when the time comes for a formal vote.

    District 1 council member Kris Gulick and District 3 council member Jerry McGrane told constituents at district meetings last week they thought the city would need to relinquish the Vision Iowa money.

    Both said the city should focus on one project that the community supports and then return to the Vision Iowa board to seek a smaller Community Attraction and Tourism grant.

    District 2 council member Sarah Henderson Monday said she did not think local private money is available for the project because ‘‘public support (for Cedar Bend) is waning. . . . So we need to step back and regroup.’’

    District 4 council member Chuck Swore expressed public skepticism about the Cedar Bend project along with Podzimek six weeks ago, saying the Vision Iowa grant had too many strings attached.

    District 5 council member Justin Shields could not be reached Monday.

    Mayor Kay Halloran said Monday she wanted to hear what her council colleagues had to say. But she pointed to the latest estimate that put the project cost at $42 million. ‘‘I haven’t seen anybody with a plan as to how to pay for it,’’ she said. ‘‘Paying for it is part of the program.’’

    At a public hearing last Thursday, the council heard a mixed bag of comments about Cedar Bend, with several people suggesting that the council and community push on to pursue local projects with or without Vision Iowa funds.