116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Bridge Under the Bridge is in search of a new location after Linn County notified the nonprofit it needed to move from its spot under the Eighth Avenue SW bridge where it has provided free hot meals to people in need since the 2020 derecho.
The organization that Bridgette Williams-Robinson and her husband, Jovountae Robinson, formed after the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho pummeled Cedar Rapids was ordered to remove its equipment and food trailer from the site under Interstate 380 along Eighth Avenue SW, near the Linn County Juvenile Justice Center, after the county says a time frame lapsed for the couple to clean the site after numerous complaints from neighbors.
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said the Iowa Department of Transportation, which leases the land to the county for employee parking, received multiple complaints from neighbors about the maintenance of the site over several weeks.
Throughout that time, Rogers said, county officials asked Bridge Under the Bridge owners to clean up seemingly abandoned vehicles, wood pallets, equipment and trash, which Catherine Cutler, Iowa DOT transportation planner in the District 6 office, said began to accumulate in 2021 and into this year.
Iowa DOT officials seemed willing to consider allowing Bridge Under the Bridge to keep the food trailer there, Rogers said. Because the site had not been cleaned up after a timetable lapsed and complaints continued, he said the Iowa DOT escalated its formal warning imposing a deadline for the county to address the violation of its lease agreement.
“They had been operating for two years without any issues from the city, without any issues from the county, giving them freedom to help feed people in that neighborhood who need to be fed,” Rogers said. “But with us potentially losing that lease, we just could no longer allow them to be on that property.”
The lease agreement states the lot is for authorized vehicles only and requires the lot be kept free of debris and garbage. Rogers said there was no sublease clause included in the lease.
“While we understand that post-derecho there was need to allow other uses of this lot (and others areas of town such as storing storm debris and wood chipping operations) and we appreciate the efforts of Bridge Under the Bridge to help the community, the DOT needs to respond to the debris complaints and asked the County to come into compliance with their lease,” Cutler said in a statement.
Williams-Robinson, the owner of Bridge Under the Bridge, said the nonprofit was told in the middle of last week about the deadline to move from its location by Friday morning. She said she was aware of some complaints about the site’s maintenance and “we had a few conversations, but nothing really involving us being moved.” She declined to share more details about the conversations.
The nonprofit was offered a few different locations and will make an announcement later this week about a final selection, Williams-Robinson said. For now, Williams-Robinson said she will keep communicating to the community through the organization’s social media accounts.
With the power out for days after the derecho, the couple pulled out a grill Williams-Robinson had for her business as a party planner and started cooking the food in their freezer for neighbors. The couple in December 2020 was gifted a brand-new food trailer, donated by eBay, on “Good Morning America.”
Williams-Robinson posted from the organization’s Facebook page last week that the group wants “to emphasize our apologies for any involuntary lack of care of the space that was offered to us, we do have many pieces of a pie that we have begun to slice. … We don't want to be a burden but a beacon of light that shines on those that need help the most.”
Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said the city, though it is not involved with the land ownership, is helping identify another location for Bridge Under the Bridge.
“We just thought we needed to step in because they’ve been such a value to the community,” O’Donnell said. “We stepped in when they didn’t have any place to go. … We saw a need. We value what they have done in the community and wanted to help out.”
Rogers said the county and other entities involved fully support Bridge Under the Bridge’s work. If the county were to violate its lease agreement and lose this land, the nonprofit would have had to move anyway, so he said the county needed to take action to comply with the terms of its lease.
“We as the tenant had to make good on our contractual agreement,” Rogers said.
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