116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The flood of 2008 was a catalyst that in many cases accelerated plans for development and redevelopment in Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Iowa City, said officials in those three communities that saw major damage five years ago.
Many projects were in the back of city leaders' minds or on wishlists that they thought would be years down the road, officials said. The flood presented the opportunity for focused community discussion and re-envisioning -- and in some cases, funding sources -- to make those ideas reality faster.
"What the flood did was it all the sudden accelerated all these opportunities we had," said Jeff Davidson, planning and community development director for Iowa City.
It also caused a rethinking of priorities and a discussion about how city leaders and residents wanted their communities to look, officials said.
In Cedar Rapids, for example, the idea that things near the river must be built to flood became gospel for redevelopment, said Councilwoman Monica Vernon, who heads the City Council's Development Committee. That philosophy can be seen in the new riverfront amphitheater that is part of a floodable entertainment venue and a piece of the city's new flood-protection system.
"Obviously it makes us more aware of the river and the need to allow it to breathe in some places," she said. "It doesn't mean you can't have anything on the river, it just means whatever you put there, you better be able to hose it down."
Before the flood, Cedar Rapids had a complement of plans and many neighborhoods had individual plans, but post-flood it was important to bring everything together since "we really used planning to drive our recovery," said Jennifer Pratt, a planner in the Community Development Department.
The Cedar Rapids plan aims to make the river a focal point and connect it with the community by allowing some green space there, rather than walling it off and hiding it, said Adam Lindenlaub, a planner with the city.
Creating sustainable neighborhoods and repopulating neighborhoods is another goal for Cedar Rapids, but doing so while avoiding the impulse to build everything back as it was is important, Pratt said.
Some major public-sector projects have opened or will open soon in Cedar Rapids, marking post-flood recovery: the hotel and convention complex, the new downtown library, the new central fire station and the new riverfront amphitheater. The "recovery momentum" also has impacted neighborhoods that weren't directly impacted in 2008, Vernon said, citing plans for a revamped Westdale Mall as an example.
"You start something and you do it the right way, it extends far beyond that neighborhood," she said. "We want to be a vibrant urban hometown."
In Iowa City, the planning process will soon get underway for a wetland park area that will be part of the Riverfront Crossings District, Davidson said. The development as envisioned will include condos and retail space overlooking the park in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, bordered by Burlington Street to the north, Highway 6 to the south, Gilbert Street to the east and the Iowa River to the west.
Demolition of one of the city's wastewater treatment plants in that area as part of flood mitigation opens up redevelopment possibilities, Davidson said.
"We've had for years this notion of the area south of Burlington Street as a high-density urban neighborhood," he said.
The city is also "pretty serious about" the consideration of creating a white-water rafting course on the Iowa River near the Riverfront Crossings District, Davidson said. The project also would improve riverfront stability and safety, officials have said.
A local-option sales tax passed since the flood also will allow Iowa City to elevate Dubuque Street, which flooded again this year to the point of closure, a project that has long been "in the back of a lot of people's minds," Davidson said.
Looking at an area of town that flooded in 2008 and seeing a chance for something difference is what happened for Coralville with an area known as Old Town, where ground will be broken in a few months on the first phase of a five-stage project.
The project will combine housing, commercial space and public entities in Old Town, which lies south of Fifth Street, between First Avenue and Biscuit Creek. Most of the former houses, apartments and city buildings in the area have since been demolished and future flood mitigation will protect the areas from water up to one foot above the 2008 record level, said Ellen Habel, Coralville assistant city administrator.
"It's a great area, right in the heart of town," she said.