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Cedar Rapids allocates $7.4 million in American Rescue Plan funds toward westside flood control, affordable housing
Projects will reconfigure Ellis Boulevard NW, renovate Colonial Center
CEDAR RAPIDS — Millions in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds will go toward Cedar Rapids’ efforts to accelerate westside flood control and to turn the former Colonial Center into affordable housing.
The Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday allocated $4.9 million of its share of American Rescue Plan Act funds for a flood control project to reconfigure Ellis Boulevard NW and $2.5 million to turn the Colonial Center building in Wellington Heights into 25 affordable housing units.
Westside flood control
The flood control project includes building a north end levee at Ellis Lane and Ellis Boulevard NW, near Ellis Park, as well as relocating and reconstructing Ellis Boulevard to the west and then up and over the levee.
Additionally, the Ellis Park parking lot will be reconfigured. The multiyear project also includes truncating Eighth Street NW to a cul-de-sac north of Q Avenue NW, and constructing a detention basin west of Eighth Street NW.
Construction will be phased to allow park access and traffic through the neighborhood during construction, Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said.
While mitigation projects on the east side of the river qualify for Army Corps of Engineers funding, the westside segments are not eligible under the Army Corps’ cost-benefit formula. On the west side, the cost of adding flood control exceeded the value of the buildings it would protect, according to the federal formula.
This $4.9 million allocation of ARPA funds is in addition to $5.1 million the council approved last year to go toward elevating a segment of O Avenue NW over the top of a levee.
Council member Tyler Olson, chair of the council’s Flood Control System Committee, noted an increase in construction of permanent flood protection.
Excluding federal funding, between the 2014 and 2017 budget years, the city previously reported spending over $45.5 million on the system. In recent years, that has more than doubled with over $95.5 million spent in fiscal 2018 through fiscal 2021.
“There was an immediate commitment by the city to secure both sides of the river, the east and the west,” Olson said. “And really over the past few years, that spending has kicked into high gear. … But this $5 million moves this project up on the timeline to make sure that we're protecting particularly the northwest part of our community.”
The additional funds also will go toward the renovation of the former Colonial Building, at 1500 Second Ave. SE. The facility was purchased by the city last December, as staff eyed potentially renovating the once-vacant office space into 25 affordable housing units. Pratt said five of these units will be fully accessible.
To supplement the ARPA funds, Cedar Rapids is using about $2.6 million between two grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the building’s acquisition and rehabilitation. Cost estimates for the project total $5.1 million.
The exterior design is consistent with the local historic district and character of the neighborhood, Pratt said.
Pratt said after the renovation wraps up, the city will issue a request for qualifications to transfer the ownership and management of the property to another entity. According to the city, a lien will be placed on the property to ensure affordability for at least 15 years to secure this investment, and there will be ongoing performance measures to ensure accountability.
Final ARPA allocations to come
The city is nearing the last of its allocations of its total share of $28 million in ARPA funds. Pratt previously said the council will consider ARPA funds for workforce initiatives and core neighborhood projects later this fall or in December.
The city already has committed funds to the PATCH home-repair program for derecho-damaged homes, social service and affordable housing projects, replenishing hotel-motel tax funds to nonprofits, workforce initiatives and a permanent westside library and Opportunity Center.
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