Mayor: No rush over Penford

C.R.'s Czech-Slovak museum opposes expansion into park

CEDAR RAPIDS — Mayor Ron Corbett on Monday said the City Council isn’t in any hurry to make a decision on Penford Products Co.’s proposal to buy Riverside Park next door for possible future expansion.

“There’s no groundbreaking deadline, so we can work this over the next couple of months,” the mayor said.

In the recent past, the council has opted not to give up city park or golf course land for retail commercial development, affordable housing or a recreation center. The Penford proposal is different: It pits a long-standing industry and the prospect of additional industrial jobs against a city park, the Czech Village commercial district and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library on the other side of the park.

The museum — a main attraction in Cedar Rapids — came out against the corn-processing plant’s proposal Monday.

At its meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, the council will hold a public hearing to take comment about the Penford proposal to buy the 11-acre park.

Then, on Wednesday morning, the city’s Community Development Department has scheduled an informational meeting for developers interested in acquiring and redeveloping Riverside. The city must seek proposals and pick from them when it disposes of public property.

Last week, Penford held three of its own informational meetings to explain why it wants to buy the park. Tim Kortemeyer, the company’s president and general manager, said it had no certain expansion plan in hand but believes it needs the park property so it can show potential partners that it has room to expand. Such growth could add between 20 and 50 workers to the 225 that Penford now employs at the site, he said.

In a statement on Monday, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library’s board of directors and staff members announced their opposition to Penford’s expansion proposal, saying it would hurt the “visitor experience” to the museum.

“We want visitors who might come on a one-time basis to be so impressed that they return and tell their families and friends to come here,” they said in the release. “This is how a great destination becomes popular and brings dollars to the city. The proposed expansion of Penford is an incongruent message to present to visitors regarding the importance of their visit and in making our city a welcoming place.”

Any Penford expansion into the park next door would move the industrial operation closer to the museum, whose officials also expressed concern about access to their facility and industrial odors. Letting Penford expand its footprint goes against the city’s vision for Czech Village and the New Bohemia district across the river, the museum statement said.

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