Seize the opportunity before us

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“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” rings true in Cedar Rapids after the state Racing and Gaming Commission denied a casino license to all three suitors. Many of our community leaders have invested a great deal to bring a casino to Cedar Rapids, so it’s understandable that frustration and disappointment are lead emotions.

Whether you supported the casino or opposed it, all of us want what is best for our city. All of us want Cedar Rapids to thrive. Let’s look at the decision as an opportunity so that we can look back in 20 years and say, “It all turned out so much better this way.”

Consider how far Cedar Rapids has come since the flood. Nonprofits have been birthed or renovated for the better: Matthew 25, The Hook, Iowa Ceramics Center, Indian Creek Nature Center. Treasured old buildings have been restored; local restaurants and bars are attracting patrons from near and far; creative businesses have sprung up.

So much of what we have built celebrates the history and unique qualities of our city. They are our own: the NewBo Market, CSPS Hall, Greene Square, the library, farmers/night markets. On the horizon is a renewed Cedar Lake and Sleeping Giant Bridge and a repurposed landfill.

Look how the community rallied around the neighborhoods that line the river to protect them last fall when floodwaters threatened. Community pride is perhaps at an all-time high.

Let’s keep the momentum going instead of spending time and energy and waiting and hoping for a different casino decision. Let’s brainstorm the kinds of attractions that will make our city a unique destination.

Our new city leaders can hold listening posts to gather as much community feedback as possible. A philanthropist can spark a competition and prize for the best idea. Let’s ask our middle and high school students; we learn that kids have amazing ideas when we listen.

Cedar Rapids has great strengths: We are a family-centered community. We are a Blue Zone community. We have a strong nonprofit sector and community foundation. We get to meet the presidential candidates up close and personal, before it gets too politicized and nasty. We are Iowa nice.

Here’s a list of ideas that come to mind:

• Indoor ziplining, rock climbing, luge rides.

• An intergenerational recreation center. (How about indoor playgrounds that are as fun for adults as they are for kids?)

• An America Needs Farms museum or an interactive center that celebrates pigs, cows or corn.

• Indoor downhill skiing. (Yes, it’s a thing!)

• A peace or civility learning center, with an exhibit on the Iowa caucuses.

• An Iowa Nice museum with feel good stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things — the kind of place you go to feel better about the world.

• A recording studio for friends to come together to produce music, short videos or movies together.

• Insert your ideas here!

So when life hands us lemons, let’s open a lemonade stand. Let’s make lemon meringue pie. Let’s see how sweet we can make this city — without anyone to tell us it can’t be done.

• Jenny Schulz is founder and executive director of Kids First Law Center

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