CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids has faced “extreme hardship” in the past and met the challenge, and “now we’re in the process of doing that yet again,” Mayor Brad Hart said Thursday.
In a videotaped virtual State of the City address, Hart touted the city’s successes in economic development and construction on Cedar Rapids streets and a flood control system, all while managing the COVID-19 pandemic and the Aug. 10 derecho.
“While the past year has been overwhelming and life-changing in so many ways, it has also reinforced the resilient nature of the people of Cedar Rapids,” Hart said. “This city may know hardship, but its leaders and citizens are determined to make this community and the lives of all residents better than before.
“2020 showed us we can do so much when we work together and we care for each other. Remember, sticks in a bundle cannot be broken.”
Since the Aug. 10 derecho pummeled the city, Cedar Rapids contractors have removed more than 3 million cubic yards of tree debris from city streets and property.
“We’re committed to working into the spring months to remove additional debris to help prepare our community for a season of replanting and renewal,” Hart said.
The city estimates it lost 70 percent of its tree canopy and plans to spend $1 million a year for the next several years to replant trees.
Officials also are working with local nonprofit Trees Forever and city planning expert Jeff Speck on the ReLeaf plan to guide what trees are planted where.
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Residents are continuing to repair derecho-damaged properties. The city’s Building Services department processed a record 19,283 building permits, double the annual average, with 9,500 permits related to derecho damage. .
Cedar Rapids businesses — already coping with the pandemic toll on revenue — reported more than $133 million in losses because of the storm. Hart said a small business recovery initiative will be forthcoming.
COVID-19 has prompted closure of some businesses and hampered the local economy, but Cedar Rapids attracted more than $402 million in capital investment last year, Hart said.
Notably, global company BAE Systems is building a $139 million, 200,000-square-foot classified defense aerospace facility at 76th Avenue SW and Sixth Street SW, retaining 650 jobs.
Additionally, Hart said, the city issued almost $343 million in new building permits, bringing the three-year total to more than $1 billion.
The city also started a partnership with Des Moines-based nonprofit Urban Dreams to provide employment mentoring, workforce connections to underserved communities and to help diversify the workforce in the city.
Affordable housing remains a priority, Hart said, particularly after the derecho diminished the city’s already-low affordable housing stock in the city. Of the 894 new residential units that became available in 2020, 180 are designated as affordable units.
Street work continued largely as planned in 2020, with minimal disruption from the pandemic and the derecho. Twenty-six projects, on approximately 10 miles of city streets, were completed in the Paving for Progress program funded by the 1 percent local-option sales tax.
Flood control system construction continues, with work underway near the McGrath Amphitheatre that will incorporate amenities into the new flood wall segment. A new levee and trail segment also are underway north of Cedar Lake, among other projects.
Hart highlighted the ConnectCR project that will revitalize Cedar Lake and connect the NewBo and Czech Village districts with a bridge. The project “will help us develop even more ways to use and enjoy our river, with ideas from a recently completed study of river recreation possibilities,” he said.
City staff collaborated with the Advocates for Social Justice to create a citizens’ police review board. The city is now accepting applications for the nine-member panel, which will advise on police policies and practices, help hire the police chief and investigate citizen complaints.
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City officials also engaged the National Network for Safe Communities to form an evidence-based Group Violence Intervention strategy.
City employees adjusted operations to continue providing essential services. such as transportation and public safety, since the onset of COVID-19, Hart said.
Hart highlighted his decision to issue a mask mandate in consultation with local health experts in early September as COVID-19 cases and deaths spiked in Cedar Rapids.
Hart said the order will expire “as soon as (the experts) advise masks are no longer needed.”
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