Hall-Perrine awards $5M to Cedar Lake-pedestrian bridge project

Friends group president: 'This is a very big day'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Hall-Perrine Foundation on Thursday awarded $5 million to a long-in-the-making endeavor to reclaim Cedar Lake and a newer concept to construct a pedestrian bridge over the Cedar River.

The two projects have been unified under the umbrella called ConnectCR, which received the grant.  

“The project is one the board found exciting because it can help ensure the continued viability and quality of life in Cedar Rapids,” said Darrel Morf, a board member for Hall-Perrine, a private philanthropic corporation dedicated to quality of life in Linn County. “And, it reaches across all parts of the city.”

The award is structured as a 2-to-1 match such that ConnectCR must raise an additional $10 million to release the funds.

Once complete, the project will create a recreational band tying the lake just north of downtown to the bridge dubbed the Sleeping Giant or Smokestack Bridge just south of downtown. The bridge would cross the river between the New Bohemia District and Czech Village near Mount Trashmore.

The city of Cedar Rapids previously committed $5 million dispersed over five years so long as matching funds are secured. That $5 million does not count toward the Hall-Perrine match. The total project is estimated to cost $24 million.

Lee Clancey, former Cedar Rapids mayor, and Mike McGrath, of McGrath Auto Group, have been tabbed as co-chairs of the fundraising effort, which begins in earnest next spring.

“It’s an amazing gift from a foundation embedded in the community from the industrial side,” Clancey said. “This project taps into the industrial heritage of the community.”

ConnectCR is expected to seek grants through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources lake restoration program and Linn County Conservation, which voters empowered to distribute a $40 million conservation bond over 20 years, as well as turn to the community for private fundraising. Clancey noted a number of funds exist that ConnectCR can apply for, such as for bank stabilization and watershed management.

Supporters have been calling to clean up the 120-acre Cedar Lake for decades and turn it into a recreational destination with trails, fishing and paddling. Now, it’s one step closer to reality.

“It’s a game changer,” said Jeff Pomeranz, Cedar Rapids city manager, adding this was a grass roots effort the city embraced after they mustered a ground swell of support. “This is a tremendous recreation amenity for the community.”

The lake was long used as a cooling pond for the Alliant Energy power plant, which was wiped out by the flood of 2008.

The lake was given a mostly clean bill of health during environmental testing; however, the Iowa DNR is seeking additional tests by Alliant along the shore, and more testing and likely cleanup would be required if the lake is dredged as lake restoration proponents hope.

The city is expected to take ownership of the lake — a key step in order for fundraising to proceed — after testing is complete and once the city and Alliant agree on terms, said Jennifer Pratt, the city’s community development director. She said the transfer is expected to occur by next summer.

The Sleeping Giant pedestrian bridge has been in planning for the past several years. Last year, proponents released designs for a 632-foot-long, twin-deck, cable-stayed bridge using the piers of the old Rock Island Railroad Bridge. This summer the design was updated to include a 190-foot-tall tower paying homage to the old Sinclair meatpacking plant smokestack.

Advocates say ConnectCR will create a regional destination and also will tie into the coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail.

“Each day the vision gets closer to becoming a reality,” said Dale Todd, president of Friends of Cedar Lake. “We still have some significant work ahead but this is a very big day.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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