116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION - In the first State of the City address since the COVID-19 pandemic and the derecho, Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly reflected on the city's growth and how the city has approached overcoming nature's challenges.
The mayor, during a broadcast from Marion's new YMCA building, said Maronites should be proud of how the community responded to the pandemic and the derecho.
'These challenges weren't predicted or in our control,” AbouAssaly said. 'But how we chose to confront them made all the difference in our community.”
AbouAssaly said as the pandemic began and isolation and social distancing became the new normal, city facilities and meetings moved online.
Marion formed a Recovery Task Force that included local government officials, health care and mental health professionals, business and economic development, schools, human service agencies and faith communities.
Since the start of the pandemic, the task force has supplied 4,800 masks to local schools, started a community cash program that infused $20,500 into the local economy, held a juice box donation drive for thousands of meals served by Feeding Lunches to Youth and held various public service campaigns on social media.
AbouAssaly never issued a mask mandate during the pandemic. Instead, he issued a 'mask advisory” encouraging residents to wear masks in public places and businesses.
Marion was one of the Eastern Iowa communities devastated by last August's derecho.
'COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on our lives, but the Aug. 10 derecho will forever be etched in our collective memory not only as the greatest natural disaster in Marion's history, but also as one of Marion's finest moments,” AbouAssaly said.
In the initial response to the derecho, Marion set up a command center at City Hall and a part of Marion Square Plaza was transformed into a food pantry.
As of December, Marion has lost 2,648 or 41.5 percent of its public trees due to the derecho. City officials are working with Trees Forever to begin replanting efforts this spring, starting in Hanna Park and along Eighth Avenue.
The replacement costs for the lost public trees is just under $400,000.
'I was grateful for and inspired by the exemplary way in which Maronites united around a common purpose and our shared humanity as we quickly assessed the damage, rolled up our sleeves and attended to each other's needs,” AbouAssaly said.
As 2020 was a year that brought racial equity issues to the forefront across the country, AbouAssaly said that Marion was also reminded that no community is immune to the impacts of racism.
'Purveyors of hate don't represent the true heart of Marionites,” AbouAssaly said. Every individual has the potential to add value to our community … diversity is a strength that should be celebrated.”
Last year, the city formed a Community Equity and Inclusion Task Force that includes city officials, Marion Alliance for Racial Equity members as well as other community members.
In October, the City Council voted to approve an agreement, embedding a Foundation 2 crisis counselor in the police department to work with officers during mental health-related calls.
Other projects include the Broad and Main development, the Uptown Plaza and the construction of Prairie Hill Park.
Marion's new YMCA opened in January.
'We have been planning for these projects for many years and know the work will cause some inconvenience. So thank you for your patience and understanding as we complete the work. The upgrades will improve the safety, walkability and overall look and feel of the area,” AbouAssaly said.
Additionally, 12 housing subdivisions are under development in Marion. The city also added 278 new homes and housing units in the past year.
This year, a couple of large, multifamily residential complexes will be built: one on Fifth Avenue and the other at the site of the former YMCA.
The city also saw more than 40 new businesses open.
'The city's targeted efforts and long-term vision of helping the central corridor redevelop from industrial uses to more commercial uses are paying off,” AbouAssaly said.
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