116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - A proposed recreational trail bridge dubbed the Sleeping Giant and spanning the Cedar River just south of downtown can benefit Czech Village, although some fear it would cause trail traffic to bypass directly into the New Bohemia District, according to residents and business owners.
'I have mixed feelings about it in that regard,” said Bob Schaffer, owner of Czech Cottage, 100 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, which sells gifts and jewelry. 'Yes, maybe it will bypass Czech Village, but it's creating an attraction and there will be spillover. We are creating something that will bring people to the area that wouldn't have come otherwise, but do I wish it was coming into Czech Village? Oh, heck yah.”
Piers of the old Rock Island Railroad bridge, which was destroyed in the 2008 flood, would hold a twin deck, cable-stayed suspension bridge proponents say will be a visual marvel that attracts people from near and far. A private sector group led by the Southside Investment Board has been developing the concept for several years.
The bridge would become part of a trail network running 70-plus miles between Ely and Cedar Falls.
As it is, trail traffic from the north and south must cross the 16th Avenue Bridge, which touches the edge of the Czech Village with a clear view of the National Czech and Slovak Museum, clock tower and the main drag with shops and restaurants, such as Lions Bridge Brewing Co.
The area sees pass-through traffic, as well as those using just a mile or two of the trail by foot or bike, many of whom stop to shop, browse or grab a bite.
The proposed Sleeping Giant would be placed about a half mile south of Czech Village connecting to the trail near Mount Trashmore on the west side of the river. On the east side, the trail would run through NewBo. Planners say it would create a short loop between NewBo and Czech Village.
The Cedar Rapids City Council last week pledged $5 million for the bridge and restoration of Cedar Lake, which is just north of downtown. The two projects have been paired together - with a $20 million total price tag - to create a connected recreational destination for Cedar Rapids.
Pam Lewis, owner of Czech Village Antiques, 82 16th Ave. SW, applauded the effort to clean up a 'dead spot” in Cedar Rapids and said any investment will be a positive.
'It doesn't exclude us at all,” Lewis said. 'I think it is an exciting idea, an interesting attraction. Let's go see that funky bridge. Areas that put up a bridge like that, the bridge becomes a destination. It is true it goes more through the NewBo business district, but it will get people into the area and they will want to see the Historic Czech Village.”
John Rocarek, owner of Sykora Bakery, 73 16th Ave. SW, said some feared NewBo, which came into its own after the 2008 flood, would detract from Czech Village, but it's had the opposite effect and so will the bridge. Rocarek said his business has seen a 10 percent boost since NewBo came to be.
'It's going to do the same thing NewBo did for Czech Village,” he said. 'It's attracting people to the south side of Cedar Rapids that didn't know we existed.” With greenway plans also in the works on the Czech Village side of the river, 'They'll find us. It's going to make it better,” he said. 'I can see where people get a little spooked, but I think it's going to be a great asset.”
Count Cathy Moravek, 58, who lives in the Czech Village and is of Czech descent, as one who is spooked by the plan. She says her neighborhood will suffer because the bridge will draw people away.
An overhead view shows the bridge creates a straight shot into NewBo, a bypass of sorts in which Czech Village falls a bit out of the way of the main trail.
'It's cutting us out,” Moravek said. 'I don't understand why they are trying to mess it up. People will use the bridge and not come over to our side. They will cross the bridge and go along the river. They won't come up to Czech Village.”
Steve Sovern, who has spearheaded the Sleeping Giant effort, said he's heard the concern raised before, but said most people see the potential.
'Folks bent on making some distance, there may be some truth to that - maybe,” Sovern said. 'Any traffic diverted will be made up tenfold in traffic in all of the neighborhoods. The Sleeping Giant and Cedar Lake connection will create one of the most exciting rural-urban trail systems in the Midwest.”
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