116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — The city is seeking over $3.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated by the state to fund two major projects that will contribute to the city’s goal of making Marion a regional destination.
Marion is seeking funding for the Uptown Central Plaza project as well as the final phase of the long-awaited CeMar Trail through the Destination Iowa Grant process. The total cost of the two projects is just over $9 million.
The Central Plaza at City Square Park in the heart of Uptown Marion has been in the works since the city ImagiNext Visioning process was done in 2018. The project is expected to begin after the Uptown Marion Seventh Avenue Streetscape project and North Plaza on 11th Street, which is expected to be completed this year.
The park's redesign includes a ring area of the plaza that can be transformed into an ice-skating rink during the winter, an artistic “Peace Tree,” flexible outdoor seating, water features, play structure, event stage and space for festival and market tents.
The park’s train depot also may see some upgrades, including a potential warming house during the winter, restrooms and mechanical rooms for the various water features.
The cost of the park upgrades is estimated to be over $5 million.
Earlier this year, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the Destination Iowa Grant program, which is using $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to invest in “transformational, shovel-ready attractions.” Destination Iowa applicants have to show they have secured at least 60 percent of the funding toward their projects, which must be complete by 2026.
“The Central Plaza provides the wow factor in the application, but the trail connection is what will really bring the entire metro area together,” Marion Community Development Director Tom Treharne said. “A trail connecting Uptown Marion to downtown Cedar Rapids has been a goal for not just years, but decades.”
The final 1.3 miles of the trail is what’s proposed in this project. It will connect the Cedar Rapids and Marion trail portions south of Highway 100. The connection will provide trail users access to Uptown Marion and its future Central Plaza from around the region, with connections to the larger Cedar Valley Nature Trail as well.
Around $18 million has already been invested in the CeMar Trail project, which included new pedestrian bridges in Marion. The final piece of the project is expected to be completed in fall 2025.
“We see great opportunities to partner with Cedar Rapids Downtown District and the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street on events throughout the year,” Treharne added. “Connecting Uptown Marion to downtown Cedar Rapids is what will truly attract visitors from across the Midwest.”
In May, Cedar Rapids applied for $27 million through the Destination Iowa program to help pay for the $119 million “Greenway Recreation and Revitalization” project. It’s part of a long-term vision to transform the greenway around the Cedar River in the New Bohemia and Czech Village neighborhoods with a project to support flood control, recreation and housing in an effort to draw tourists and boost offerings for residents and businesses.
Marion City Manager Ryan Waller said he and Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly have started having regular breakfasts with Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell as one way to establish a strong working relationship between the two cities.
“We talked about the opportunity to explore a partnership with our grant application projects, and we each have these wonderful attractions and we’re going to be promoting that regionalism,” Waller said. “The CeMar Trail will be connecting the areas that are in both our applications.”
“This is a regional project and the funding is great for Marion, but it really does provide us a solid relationship with Cedar Rapids, and with bike tourism becoming an even bigger deal since the pandemic, we could do so many more events that are bicycle-driven across the region,” Treharne added.
There is no deadline or expected timeframe of when Marion finds out if it’s been awarded the funding, but Treharne and Waller feel good about Marion’s application.
“We took our time and made sure all of our ducks were in a row,” Treharne said. “It’s been thoughtful planning in the application.”
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