CEDAR RAPIDS — Elected city leaders agreed Tuesday to the acquisition of what is left of the old Rock Island Railroad bridge over the Cedar River, a key milestone in plans for an iconic new pedestrian span called the Smokestack Bridge.
City Council approved a resolution authorizing a $1 real estate purchase for the bridge, of which only piers and part of the deck remain, and property at the southern foot of the bridge from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway Co., or CRANDIC.
“The Smokestack Bridge is something — established by citizens, welcomed by the city — we think will be an icon, not only in our Iowa trail system, but in the American Discovery Trail system,” said Steve Sovern, who first publicly introduced the project to city leaders in 2015.
The bridge would pay homage to the smokestack demolished after the 2008 flood and fires at the old Sinclair meatpacking plant, which no longer exists. Preliminary designs call for a cable-stayed, twin deck suspension bridge that would tie into the Cedar River Trail and downtown trail system. At the center would be a 192-foot-tall replica of the smokestack.
For a combined $2, the city has acquired the two key properties at the center of a $20 million recreational infrastructure project planned for Cedar Rapids.
The bridge is the southern bookend of ConnectCR. The northern bookend features the restoration and enhancement of Cedar Lake just north of downtown with fishing jetties, floating islands, natural wetlands and more. Most of the lake was acquired for $1 earlier this year.
Residents passionate about “trails and bridges and parks” have driven the lake and bridge projects. The city has embraced it, committing public money and agreed to maintain it once built.
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Staff, in recommending the bridge acquisition, cited the project enhancing the growing bike and active living culture, a study predicting $17.5 million in private investment, and 370 jobs created because of the ConnectCR project, and leveraging city investment with significant private fundraising.
“This is a milestone for us,” said Jennifer Pratt, community development director, who has worked closely on city plans in recent years.
Thus far at least $15.2 million has been raised, including $5.2 million of an expected $7 million private fundraising campaign, $5 million from city coffers, and $5 million from the Hall-Perrine Foundation.
Pratt said from the time private fundraising is complete — which ConnectCR leaders have said is expected by the end of the year — the full bridge and lake project is expected to take five years to complete.
“This signals a new phase for ConnectCR,” City Council member Dale Todd said of the bridge acquisition.
Todd has championed the efforts as a member of Friends of Cedar Lake before being elected in 2017.
He said next week city staff will review proposals from consulting firms to coordinate the implementation of both the Cedar Lake project and the Smokestack Bridge. The selected firm will develop construction documents, determine bid packaging, construction sequencing, cost estimates and coordinate communication among public and private stakeholders, he said.
Experts in lake restoration, watershed management, hydrology, trails, bridges and lighting will be involved, he said.
New use for Ambroz
In other news, the city has proposed terms for the disposition of the old Ambroz Recreation Center, 2000 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, which previously was Buchanan Elementary. Forest & Fish Development, LLC has proposed a $9.5 million housing complex with 29 market-rate condominiums for seniors that would reuse the building plus an addition.
The building stopped being a recreation center in 2016.
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