116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — “The time is now” seems to be the new motto in Cedar Rapids City Hall.
With an unprecedented influx of local, state and federal cash, as well as private-sector support, Cedar Rapids has the opportunity to advance game-changing infrastructure investments that could shape Iowa’s second-largest city now and in the future, Mayor Tiffany O’Donnel said during her first State of the City address Wednesday.
The address was prerecorded and released at noon in place of the usual large luncheon, canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, that is hosted by the League of Women Voters of Linn County.
Tapping into her past life as a TV news anchor at KGAN/KFXA, O’Donnell stood outside the coffee shop Craft’d on First Street SE with a cup of tea in hand as she headed to City Hall to report on the city’s wins in 2021 and plans for the year ahead.
“I’m going to need a lot of help, but I’ve got a few people to pick up along the way,” O’Donnell said.
Driving home her point of needing citizens to help, O’Donnell stopped to pick up Jaymie McGrath of the McGrath Family of dealerships; Rama Muzo, president and CEO of the Intercultural Center of Iowa; recreation enthusiast Steve Sovern, a former state senator; and local business supporter Joe Sample.
Once she parked her car at City Hall and ventured to the council chambers to deliver her speech, O’Donnell pitched a vision of a community coming together to take Cedar Rapids to greater heights, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 derecho.
“Our city definitely looks a little different, but our resolve remains,” O’Donnell said. “There is much more work to do — and we are up to the challenge.
“Rarely in history has a city had the opportunities that we have right now in front of us. The opportunity to make generational and transformational change. To leap forward toward a better, brighter future.”
Go to CityofCR.com/SOTC
O’Donnell considers promoting economic development and business retention her “job one” as mayor.
She highlighted expansion projects at Collins Aerospace, International Flavors and Fragrance (formerly DuPont) and Sadler Power Train as examples of sectors thriving despite the fiscal toll and workforce disruptions of the pandemic.
O’Donnell also cited new growth, including the $109 million FedEx distribution facility and the $20 million Alro Steel Corp. regional distribution facility as among the City Council-approved projects totaling $354 million in capital investment. The projects created 517 new jobs and retained 329 jobs, she said.
More affordable and market-rate housing — with a focus on infill projects around the urban core — will be key to achieving the growth the city desires, O’Donnell said.
The city in 2021 added 639 new residential units, including 90 affordable units.
Major housing projects are underway, including the Banjo Block development near the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library, the Watts Group redevelopment adjacent to Brucemore, the redevelopment of the Terex property and the Hatch Development Brickstone project.
All developments “will yield major improvements to key districts and the city and add a diversity of options for residents,” she said.
Continuing a call from the campaign trail, O’Donnell said the city would lean into neighborhood associations even more to “strengthen these connections and ensure that all residents in Cedar Rapids feel a sense of belonging and are safe where they live.”
Walkable, bikeable neighborhoods also are envisioned in the Community Climate Action Plan adopted in September.
With Linn County voters approving the gaming referendum again in 2021, the city will be out front advocating for a casino — pending the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s approval, O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell also highlighted the $20 million ConnectCR project that will revitalize Cedar Lake just north of downtown and build the Alliant Energy LightLine pedestrian-bike bridge spanning the Cedar River to the south.
‘Build a better future’
With reforestation after the derecho in progress through the city’s ReLeaf plan with nonprofit Trees Forever, as well as flood control system construction, O’Donnell noted the ways Cedar Rapids continues to move forward and build resiliency after natural disasters.
Other successes she highlighted included a reduction in gun violence through Group Violence Intervention, establishment of the Citizens’ Police Review Board to provide oversight of local law enforcement and the hiring of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion manager.
“One of the keys to growing our workforce and continuing to expand our business base is making sure the world knows how awesome this place is,” O’Donnell said. “Join my voice in making sure we are all heard.
“The time is now to think big. To think about what’s possible, not what’s been lost. To recognize the opportunities right in front of us and build a better future for all of Cedar Rapids.
“The time is now to put the pedal to the metal and really get moving forward.”
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