Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

Cedar Bend Lake Has Plaque But No Plan

Rick Smith

The Gazette

March 5, 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 — They put the plaque before the horse.

    If bringing to life a redevelopment project were only as simple as buying a plaque to commemorate it. . . .

    If that were the case, the city would be celebrating the Cedar Bend redevelopment project instead of giving back a $5 million state Vision Iowa grant for lack of local funding and lack of local interest.

    Where the city goes from here on Cedar Bend — whether the name even will survive — is still unclear.

    But what the city has now is this:

    A bronze commemorative plaque for the yetto-be developed lake that cost $735 and features the names of just-departed Mayor Paul Pate and his just-departed council colleagues.

    A 15-ton to 20-ton rock, six feet in diameter, on which to put the plaque.

    A $600 repair bill. The rock toppled while the city was trying to move it and damaged a city trailer.

    About $240,000 in consultants’ fees and design drawings that helped put a nail in the Cedar Bend coffin.

    In particular, the consultant for the proposed lake managed to turn that part of the project, the smallest of the three features, from a $3.6 million item into an $8 million to $14 million one. This happened even as the city has significant money yet to find for a $3.6 million lake and the larger $34 million-plus Cedar Bend project.

    Cedar Bend was to feature a community center with year-round fresh-food market in the Third Street SE area down near the former Farmstead Foods plant; a park with trails on and around the landfill near Czech Village; and a city lake in what had been a water-filled industrial sandpit.

    One day, the city may have all of those things in one form or another.

    But at its meeting last Wednesday, the City Council made note that it needs a formal vote on relinquishing Cedar Bend’s Vision Iowa grant in short order. Sooner, rather than later, would be a courtesy to the state Vision Iowa board, at-large council member Brian Fagan suggested.

    The city’s next decision on Cedar Bend will focus on opening the former sandpit for fishing, which some fishing enthusiasts have been urging.

    Acting City Manager Jim Flitz this week asked the nine council members to visit the lake property — 104 acres (62 underwater) across the river from the A Street SW landfill — and see what they want to do with it in the near term.

    ‘‘I see significant challenges out there to any type of use,’’ Flitz said.

    Among the questions, he said: Would boats be allowed? Where would people park?

    Dwight Dohlman, the city’s facilities construction director, made it clear that ‘‘any grandiose scheme’’ for the lake — raising elevations for a beach and a lodge — is on hold in favor of ‘‘minimal improvements.’’

    As for the commemorative plaque, purchased in the waning days of the last council, it remains in Dohlman’s office. He said he can still see value in it. The lake was ‘‘established’’ under the Pate administration, he noted.

    The plan had been to put the plaque near the proposed lake lodge, which may or may not be built. But the plaque and the rock to which it will be attached can’t be placed until fill is added to raise the elevation.

    As for the rock, it remains at a local quarry where the city tried to pick it up last fall. The rock dropped from an end loader and damaged a city trailer.

    ‘‘It was kind of Keystone Kops situation, to be perfectly honest,’’ Dohlman said.

    Lyle Hanson, former finance commissioner, now chuckles over the plaque, saying his only c o n t r i b u t i o n was to suggest removing mention that the lake project w a s b e i n g funded by a state Vision Iowa grant. ‘‘Are you sure you want to do that before we have the Vision Iowa issues resolved?’’ Hanson recalled asking last fall. The plaque itself is a fascinating read. It names the body of water The Lake at Cedar Bend, not Cedar Bend Lake. It declares that the lake was ‘‘dedicated’’ in 2005, though an official dedication that had been scheduled never occurred.

    (Jane Tompkins, the city’s community development director, suggested that perhaps a June news conference at the lake accepting the sandpit donation from Martin Marietta Aggregates could be counted as a dedication.)

    The plaque then says the lake had been dedicated to ‘‘the principles of affordable, wholesome recreation and quality education.’’

    Tompkins reported that Doug Wagner, the former mayor’s chief of staff, developed the initial plaque language and then input came from others at City Hall in several waves.

    ‘‘Sometimes you can’t design things very well by committee,’’ she suggested.

    The plaque also notes the two years of service of the last council as 2004-2006.

    ‘‘If you didn’t know any better, you might think it was a three-year term,’’ Hanson said.