CEDAR RAPIDS — Elected officials are calling a $5 million pledge from the city a “milestone” in a decades-long effort to spruce up Cedar Lake and a more recent plan to construct a trail bridge dubbed the “Sleeping Giant” over the Cedar River.
Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously approved a resolution on Tuesday pledging its support for a project being packaged together under the banner of ConnectCR. The resolution comes with strings attached.
“I think it’s a milestone in this whole process,” said Ralph Russell, a City Council member who has played a key role for the city. “It’s unusual to have a project with such community significance that results in infrastructure that will really become a visual icon for our community.”
The resolution stipulates Cedar Rapids would provide 25 percent, or up to $1 million a year for five years, of the estimated $20 million ConnectCR project. The city agreed to a memorandum of understanding with Alliant Energy, which owns the lake, for the body of water’s transfer to the city, and stated its intent to acquire the old railroad bridge from CRANDIC, a railroad company owned by Alliant.
Backers want to restore the 120-acre lake just north of downtown into a destination for fishing, kayaking and nature strolls. The lake long served as a cooling pond for Alliant Energy’s now-decommissioned Sixth Street SE power plant.
Recent studies found minimal traces of toxins and declared the lake safe. Proponents hope to expand recreational opportunities through dredging, but that would require further testing.
Just southeast of downtown at the edge of the New Bohemia District, proponents want to use the piers of the old Rock Island Railroad bridge, which was built in 1865 and knocked down in the 2008 flood, for a new cable-stayed, twin deck suspension bridge over the river to the Cedar River Trail near Mount Trashmore.
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Recreation trails would connect Cedar Lake, the Sleeping Giant and Mount Trashmore, which also is being adapted for recreation. All together it would create a “signature attraction” for the city, some say.
“As a community we are entering a new phase, these projects are both transformational and will change the face Linn County for future generations,” said Dale Todd, president of Friends of Cedar Lake and chairman of the Southside Investment Board, the two entities that have spearheaded efforts of revitalization to date.
Lee Clancey, co-chairwoman of ConnectCR, said the projects will pay tribute to the past, including a replica of the old Sinclair smokestack at the center of the suspension bridge.
“The quality of life improvement and enhancement will be good for not only current residents but recruitment and retention of employees here,” Clancy said. “ConnectCR is arguably one of the most exciting projects for our community in decades. We have the ability to create one of the most exciting, interesting and extraordinary urban trail experiences in the Midwest.”
The city’s financial commitment provides seed money for the ConnectCR group to begin private fundraising and seek grants that often require matching funds. The group plans to approach Hall-Perrine Foundation for a $5 million commitment.
Before the city releases any money, the ConnectCR organization would need to raise at least 50 percent of the project total cost, according to city documents.
cedar Lake Transfer
Under the memorandum of understanding for the transfer of Cedar Lake, Alliant must meet the terms of additional testing required by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which found higher levels of toxins at spots along the shores of Cedar Lake. Iowa DNR granted an extension until Sept. 29 for Alliant to submit a site assessment plan.
City officials estimate the transfer will be complete within 12 months.
“We’ll continue to work with the city over the next 12 months to complete the process,” Doug Kopp, senior vice president for Alliant, said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the plans to provide an outdoor experience in a downtown setting come to life.”
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The city must develop a stormwater master plan for the watershed containing Cedar Lake and develop stormwater management best practices to protect the Cedar Lake ecosystem and inform necessary long-term maintenance activities, such as dredging.
The city must also create plan of desired uses and a development schedule, determine the final alignment of its flood control system and potential physical, chemical, and biological impacts, according to the agreement.
Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director, said the city would be responsible for maintaining the facilities once complete, and said it is not yet clear from where the money will come for the city’s pledge of up to $5 million.
She said that will be integrated during budget planning during the coming years, adding the project dovetails with several city goals.
“It’s really creating those bookends and encourages that ongoing growth attraction and movement through the downtown and Newbo-Czech Village district,” she said.
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