CEDAR RAPIDS — A grassroots project years in the making to create and link recreational amenities through downtown — called ConnectCR — is getting its first major public investment.
The Cedar Rapids City Council this week approved a $1.268 million contract with a Canadian-based firm with offices in the United State called WSP USA. The company will provide technical designs and engineering for new amenities at Cedar Lake, a new pedestrian span over the Cedar River called the Smokestack Bridge and recreation trails to connect the two attractions.
“It’s a positive milestone,” said Jennifer Pratt, the Cedar Rapids community development director who has taken a key role as the city became more involved. “We want to be able to hit the ground running on our commitment that once fundraising is complete we can get the project done in five years.”
Started by private citizens, ConnectCR has evolved into a $20 million signature public infrastructure project adding recreation and quality of life opportunities for current and future residents. It’s also become one of the top municipal priorities.
The city has taken ownership of the properties for the bridge and lake and has agreed to oversee construction once private fundraising is complete.
The city’s contract should begin in the next several days and locks WSP in for the life of the project, Pratt said. The money comes out of the city’s five year, $5 million commitment to the project.
Pratt noted private fundraising is nearing completion. A steering committee had been working to secure $7 million from businesses and residents. The city also anticipates applying for a state Community Attraction and Tourism grant by the May 1 deadline, Pratt said.
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Key aspects at the 100-plus-acre lake, which was long used as a cooling pond for Alliant Energy’s coal-fired power plant north of downtown, include shoreline protection and restoration, kayak and canoe launches, fishing piers, improvements to existing trailheads, a parking lot, vegetation and floating islands, a nature-themed playground and more.
The bridge, which would reuse old railroad bridge piers south of downtown, would pay tribute to the old Sinclair meatpacking plant smokestack and would serve as visual icon and trail connection for cyclists and pedestrians.
“They bring to the project a level of worldwide expertise that we typically do not see,” said Dale Todd, who was a key champion as a private citizen and remains an advocate now as a City Council member. “I expect them to challenge us to think bold and provide the engineering know-how to achieve a vision that we will all be proud of.”
He said the project would “be our legacy for generations to come.”
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