Government

With Connect CR, Cedar Rapids seeks millions to help pay for signature rec project

'ConnectCR' links Cedar Lake and pedestrian bridge with bike trails

Southside Investment Board

A replica of the old Sinclair meatpacking plant smokestack has been incorporated into designs for a twin-deck, cable-stayed pedestrian bridge. The proposed bridge would span the Cedar River south of downtown, with Mount Trashmore in the background.
Southside Investment Board A replica of the old Sinclair meatpacking plant smokestack has been incorporated into designs for a twin-deck, cable-stayed pedestrian bridge. The proposed bridge would span the Cedar River south of downtown, with Mount Trashmore in the background.

DES MOINES — An ambitious bike trail, pedestrian bridge and lake restoration project — dubbed ConnectCR — would be a statewide game changer, a contingent of Cedar Rapids officials told a legislative panel Thursday in seeking millions to help pay for it.

The effect of the 120-acre Cedar Lake restoration on the north side of downtown, the Sinclair Smokestack Bridge to the south, and trails connecting the two would be similar to the restoration of Gray’s Lake Park in Des Moines and the High Trestle Bridge and Trail in Madrid, the officials said.

Those projects have had positive environmental and economic impacts and proven popular tourism draws, lifting not just those communities but the surrounding region and state as a whole, Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said.

“I watched Gray’s Lake and everything it did for Des Moines grow and develop,” said Pomeranz, who was city manager in West Des Moines for 12 years before coming to Cedar Rapids. “This is going to be our Gray’s Lake and our critical trail connection.”

The ConnectCR group, which was represented by Steve Sovern, Dale Todd, Mike McGrath and Felicia Wyrick, along with city staff and others, was asked to speak to the joint Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Subcommittee, they said. The group is seeking $1 million a year for three years from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, for which the subcommittee traditionally handles appropriations.

A contingent from Vinton and the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy also were seeking money for a project related to the city taking possession of Old Main of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School and renovations to the police academy building in Johnston, respectively.

The ConnectCR budget is $24 million. It has $5 million committed each from the city of Cedar Rapids and the Hall-Perrine Foundation and is seeking $3.75 million from Linn County through the voter-approved conservation bond and the remainder from private fundraising, McGrath told the panel.

State participation is critical to the private fundraising effort, members of the group said.

Lawmakers said they like the project and see it as a positive for the state, but admitted it may be difficult to fund this year.

What does get funded will be dictated by how the RIIF budget shakes out, they said.

“I like what I am seeing. I like to see skin in the game,” Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, said in an interview. “But at the law enforcement academy, there’s known issues with mold. I would assume that will get priority. … Health and safety come to the forefront.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended $193.7 million for the RIIF fund, of which about $78 million is already obligated, such as $42 million for the Environment First Fund.

Reynolds recommended $1.4 million for the academy remodel in 2019 and $10.8 million in 2020. During the committee hearing, academy Director Judy Bradshaw detailed the facility’s woeful condition with leaks, mold, problems with the air handing system and other issues.

At this point, there is no line item in the RIIF budget for ConnectCR.

In an interview, Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, a subcommittee chairman, called ConnectCR a “great project” but, like Kapucian, noted the priority for repairs on existing infrastructure.

He said the subcommittee should have a clearer picture of the RIIF budget after the revenue estimating conference next week.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, was the only lawmaker to speak during the hearing about ConnectCR. She said she was “frustrated’ and questioned whether ConnectCR is an appropriate use for RIIF funding, which had gone to a wide variety of construction projects in the past.

Kapucian and Johnson, though, said they thought it fit the parameters of the program.

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

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