Council puts off decision on Penford proposal to buy Riverside park

The company proposed the purchase to expand and perhaps add 20 to 50 manufacturing jobs

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Penford Products Co. isn’t going to get a quick, easy answer from the City Council.

The company has proposed a purchase of neighboring Riverside Park to give it room to expand and perhaps add 20 to 50 manufacturing jobs to its work force of 225.

But the council Tuesday night slowed down the process it uses to dispose of public property. Members decided to give Penford and any other interested entities until sometime in March to submit proposals to buy the park. Any final council decision on the Penford proposal likely will not come until summer.

Some members of the council already have staked out emotional positions on the Penford proposal.

A skeptical Monica Vernon said the decision about Penford was more complicated than just looking at possible manufacturing jobs. She, like officials at the neighboring National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, said it was unknown if odors and noise might increase.

Council member Justin Shields called Vernon’s assumptions about Penford’s plans “a bunch of baloney.”

He said the downtown and the area around Czech Village are subject to a variety of noises and smells, including those coming from the Quaker Co. plant and the solid waste agency’s compost operation.

Shields said cities across the United States, eager to keep and add to the number of its manufacturing jobs, would find it hard to believe that Cedar Rapids is talking about rejecting Penford’s plans to add jobs.

Council member Pat Shey agreed with Vernon and said, for now, he would vote against Penford’s proposal until he knew more about it. Both he and Vernon wondered if Penford had room in its existing footprint on which to expand without the need for the park.

Vernon ticked off a list of demands that she would want met before she would listen to a Penford proposal. She said Penford would need to provide “big-time buffers” between it and the Czech museum; a trail along its riverfront that reached out over the Cedar River; “big-time scrubbers” to scrub odor coming off the plant; and a prettier plant facade.

Council member Chuck Swore said selling an underused city asset like Riverside Park and getting it back on the tax rolls would help the city balance its budget without raising taxes and without having to cut services.

Some of the Czech museum’s board members as well as Gail Naughton, the museum’s president/CEO, spoke Tuesday night against Penford’s plans to buy the park. A representative of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District expressed concerns about odors, noise and a need for “significant” new landscaping should the council decide to sell the park.

Longtime Czech Village shop owner Bob Schaffer said a Penford expansion in the 1980s brought with it a new, industrial “wailing” sound that can be “very annoying” at times. He feared what the new expansion might bring with it.

Among those expressing support for the Penford request were former council member Chuck Wieneke, who did not seek re-election in November, and Don Thomas, former council member and city streets commissioner.

Penford officials Tuesday night noted that Tim Kortemeyer, president and general manager of the plant, was in Denver attending a company shareholders meeting. The officials said they welcomed the chance to address concerns raised by the museum and others.

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