Council agrees to project labor agreement on hotel and parking ramp

As promised, Cedar Rapids replaces projects to please Branstad

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The City Council on Tuesday approved a project labor agreement with the local trades council which the two entities say will guarantee that some of those renovating the city’s Five Seasons Hotel and building a new parking ramp across First Avenue East from it will be local workers.

The project labor agreement with the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Building and Construction Trades Council represents a major three-way compromise, without which the city of Cedar Rapids had faced the threat from Gov. Terry Branstad of losing $15 million in state I-JOBS funding for the city’s $75.6-million Convention Complex project.

The City Council and the trades council had approved a project labor agreement on the Convention Complex project only to have the governor, upon taking office in January, prohibit the use of state funds for public works projects with such agreements.

After a five-month dispute with the governor, the city and the trades council agreed two weeks ago to set the project labor agreement aside on the Convention Complex project with the city’s promise that it would put a similar agreement in place on the hotel and parking ramp projects, neither of which is being built with the help of state funds. In turn, Branstad agreed to release the state I-JOBS funds to the city for its Convention Complex project.

The city has estimated the cost of the hotel renovation at $21.8 million and the cost of the new parking ramp at $10 million.

Branstad’s predecessor, Gov. Chet Culver, was a fan of project labor agreements. In fact, the Linn County Board of Supervisors had signed contracts with such agreements in place on five flood-recovery projects before Branstad became governor.

The Cedar Rapids and Iowa City trades council along with its Central Iowa counterpart are fighting Branstad in federal court over project labor agreements on two state projects, both of which have had the agreements pulled from them after Branstad took office.

Branstad believes project labor agreements drive the cost of public works project higher and deter many contractors from bidding on them.

Tuesday’s Cedar Rapids council vote on the new project labor agreement was a 7-0 one. Council members Pat Shey and Tom Podzimek, both small contractors and both of whom opposed the first project labor agreement, were not on hand to vote. Podzimek did not attend Tuesday’s noon meeting, and Shey had left the meeting by the time of the vote, which came about 2 p.m.

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