116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids city officials are vying for a slice of $100 million in federal funds awarded through the state to achieve a long-term vision of transforming the greenway around the Cedar River in the New Bohemia and Czech Village neighborhoods with a project to support flood control, recreation and housing — an effort to draw tourists and boost offerings for residents and businesses.
Cedar Rapids this week applied for $27 million through the Destination Iowa program that state officials created with American Rescue Plan Act funds to help pay for the $119 million “Greenway Recreation and Revitalization” project.
Local officials say this would be a boon for NewBo and Czech Village businesses, provide more amenities and embrace the river while shielding area developments from potential floodwaters.
“It checks every box because we’ve been planning for this and haven’t had the funding to do something this big, and now is the time,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said.
The funding pitch encompasses the 10-acre Czech Village Greenway Park south of downtown, an open space along the river between 16th and 21st avenues SW, that would tie into the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library to boast local themes and offer various amenities, including a playground as a focal point.
Anchoring the north half of the park would be the Roundhouse Plaza, which re-imagines a historic structure damaged in the 2008 flood. The Roundhouse aligns with a new pedestrian promenade spanning from the 16th Avenue commercial corridor to the park.
City officials anticipate a gateway feature on 16th Avenue would leave a lasting positive impression of the destination.
On the NewBo side, funding would support the ConnectCR Park that will sit at the landing of the Alliant Energy LightLine Bridge, which will connect the east- and westside core neighborhoods as part of the larger project to revitalize Cedar Lake north of downtown. The bridge will be part of Cedar Rapids’ segment of the American Discovery Trail for pedestrians and bicyclists and is part of the Great American Rail-Trail.
The park includes pedestrian and bicycle amenities for those using the nationwide trail, as well as historic exhibits honoring the area’s industrial roots. This space was once home to the world’s fourth-largest meatpacking plant.
The funding also would go toward new and extended streets. The Czech Village Greenway Park would be surrounded by new development on the north and west sides, made possible by the street connections tying a new activity center into the current Czech Village main street.
Street expansions in NewBo would open a core of mixed-use sites, bringing together the New Bohemia Greenway and ConnectCR Park. Retail and restaurant spaces will make up the ground levels of office and multifamily buildings, while the street extension allows for a new hotel. Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said additional hotel rooms would help attract national conferences and events to the DoubleTree by Hilton convention complex.
Destination Iowa applicants had to show they had secured at least 60 percent of the funding toward their projects, which must be complete by 2026. Public funding makes up $60 million of the total, and private funding covers $32.1 million. Cedar Rapids estimates the project would generate $4.7 to $12.5 million a year from in-state and out-of-state tourists.
Funded portions of the overall project include a Czech Village pump station, Riverside Park retention basin and improvements, a NewBo roundabout, the Alliant Energy LightLine Bridge and Watts Group NewBo Lofts project that would add 110 multifamily housing units.
“Both projects are really linchpins for development,” Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said.
There is not a timeline on review of the applications and award notification, according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority, which is overseeing the grant awards.
‘Huge win’ for all
These projects already were envisioned in the Czech Village/New Bohemia Action Plan adopted in 2019, a long-term vision the city laid out to guide development of this part of town.
City Council member Dale Todd, who represents District 3 which includes Czech Village and NewBo, said this award would expedite a new phase of development in these core neighborhoods.
“This gives us the opportunity to fill in both sides of the river with those recreational amenities that bring people to downtowns,” he said.
After a meeting with city officials about the Destination Iowa application, Monica Vernon, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia District, said stakeholders were “stunned” that the area “fit like a glove” with requirements of the program.
There’s high demand for housing around Cedar Rapids and especially in the downtown and core neighborhoods, Vernon said, and additional flood protection and amenities make a difference toward increasing residential development.
“We already attract so many entrepreneurs and I think that will serve to attract more,” Vernon said. “I think it will continue the march of tourists through our area and just also be a place where people from this region can come and enjoy.”
People want to enjoy simple things — a playground, a picnic, a walk along the river, a good meal and music, she said.
Julie Parisi, executive director of the NewBo City Market, said the market has seen so much built around it over the last decade. She said this project is a key piece of making the neighborhood even more walkable, accessible and connected to the greenways.
“For being one of the larger attractions in the district, it’s awesome to see so much attention being paid to improving the neighborhoods, both NewBo and Czech Village,” Parisi said. “ … It’s going to be huge for all the small businesses and small business owners that work here and also live in the district. I think it’s going to be a huge win for everybody.”
Local entrepreneur Steve Shriver, who owns businesses in both neighborhoods including Brewhemia and Soko Outfitters, said the alignment between the city’s objectives and the district’s goals made him hopeful for the project and in Cedar Rapids’ future.
“If we get this grant, it really seems like we’re accelerating that plan into the next two to three years,” Shriver said of the area action plan. “That is real progress that is tangible and impacts everybody in our neighborhood in a positive way.”
Mary Kay McGrath, who has purchased several buildings in Czech Village as the owner of Novak Investments, said Cedar Rapids and these neighborhoods are on a growth spurt, and this funding would go a ways to develop the river as an attraction and spur investment.
With flood control work in the area progressing, McGrath said she hopes to see more housing development begin in Czech Village to fuel traffic to the small businesses that populate the neighborhood.
After the last couple of years have posed challenges with the 2020 derecho and the pandemic, McGrath said it’s time for small businesses to blossom.
Destination Iowa funds would “help push us over the edge,” she said.
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