Newstrack: Iowa City Council advances Riverfront Crossings park

First phase of park project to include flood mitigation work, new tail connections

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BACKGROUND

IOWA CITY — After the 2008 flood, Iowa City officials made an effort to move important infrastructure away from the Iowa River, which left a new area open for a park and the surrounding Riverfront Crossings District neighborhood primed for redevelopment.

As part of a flood mitigation project, the city removed its North Wastewater Treatment Plant on the river banks and consolidated it with the South Wastewater Treatment Plant. In its place, just north of Highway 6 and on the east side of the river, Iowa City is required by the Iowa Flood Mitigation Board to create a riverfront park.

The city received about $6 million in state flood mitigation funding, according to a memo from Juli Seydell Johnson, the city’s Parks and Recreation Director. Because of requirements placed on the funding, Iowa City must create a wetland and restore the bank of Ralston Creek.

But the city’s plans for the park don’t stop at just the flood mitigation work. In 2015, Iowa City officials created a concept design report.

The report outlined ideas for uses of the five-acre wetland and park, which include concepts such as a dog park, wetland exploration and education areas and public art. The full report can be found on the city’s Riverfront Crossings District page,

But in July the Iowa City Council approved a one-year extension for the remainder of the flood mitigation project.

The city needed extra time for the wetland construction and creek bank stabilization after it discovered equipment from the plant, dating back to 1934, leaked mercury on the site. Crews now have until Jan. 31, 2018, to finish this portion of the park project.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Iowa City approved 7-0 a proposal in a later July meeting for phase I design work from Confluence, a company with a location in Cedar Rapids. The contract totals $296,000, which can be paid for with funding from the state hazard mitigation sales tax, according to the memo.

Once phase I is completed, the park should have some new wetlands and trail connections and Ralston Creek should be restored, Seydell Johnson said. Construction of these features is scheduled for next summer.

“With this phase, it’ll actually be seeded and begin to actually feel like a usable park,” City Manager Geoff Fruin told the city council.

Seydell Johnson said traditional park features such as shelters are not included in this phase. However, the city can determine what exactly is realistic with the future wetlands, and that does not necessarily mean the plans will be completely identical to the concept design report.

“It’ll be similar, but I think that we’ll have a chance to revisit some of the themes and amenities in that first master plan,” Seydell Johnson said.

Initial soil testing and land grading has been done on the property. The Parks and Recreation Commission is set to discuss the overall master plan for the park with the city council during a Sept. 6 meeting.

“It seems like every time we hear ‘Riverfront Crossings,’ it’s good news,” said council member Rockne Cole during the contract approval.

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