CEDAR RAPIDS — Once a pedestrian bridge is built in the coming years south of downtown connecting the east and west sides of the Cedar River, Grady Suggs plans to ride his electric bike over the iconic new span.
At 7 years old, he was born after the 2008 flood that washed out the Rock Island Railroad bridge, and he’s eager to see the site of what he calls the “broken bridge” filled with a new 630-foot, cable-stayed span.
“My dad has (the old bridge) on this giant train layout,” Grady said, referring to a model railroad with electric cars in his house. “It literally takes up almost our whole basement.”
The railroad buff is perhaps the youngest of the local residents and community leaders who helped raise $7.169 million toward the $20 million ConnectCR initiative, a privately led effort to revitalize Cedar Lake north of downtown and build a pedestrian span called the Smokestack Bridge over the river south of downtown.
The fundraising amount announced Thursday surpasses ConnectCR’s $7 million fundraising goal. The city of Cedar Rapids also has committed $1 million annually for five years to the project; and the Hall-Perrine Foundation contributed $5 million through a two-to-one matching grant.
Still, there remains a gap of more than $2.8 million, which officials said they hope to fill with a number of state, federal and private grants.
Mayor Brad Hart said the project will boost the quality of life in Cedar Rapids and draw visitors here, building upon underused assets to expand connectivity for recreational purposes.
“It’s an amazing example of how citizens can have such a big impact in our community and vision,” Hart said. “ ... It’s a game-changer for our community.”
More than 300 businesses and individuals contributed, said Mike McGrath, chair of the ConnectCR campaign, adding that people who kept chugging along like Grady helped advance the grassroots project toward its design phase.
By returning cans and bottles to Hy-Vee and collecting donations from family, friends and supporters who learned of his creative fundraising endeavors, Grady raised about $160 for the project. He drew applause from the crowd of Thursday’s capital campaign announcement event at the Olympic South Side Theater when he turned in another $70 in a container labeled “Smokestack Bridge.”
Modeled to pay homage to the area’s industrial roots, the bridge’s support is planned to reach roughly the same height as old 193-foot Sinclair smokestack, one of the tallest smokestacks in Iowa before it was demolished. Built in 1909, it stood at the T.M. Sinclair & Co. slaughterhouse about 100 feet from a railroad bridge washed out in the 2008 flood.
The City Council in February approved a $1.268 million contract with Canadian firm WSP USA to provide technical designs and engineering for new amenities at Cedar Lake, the pedestrian bridge and the connecting trails.
Julie Kraft, the ConnectCR director of organizational development, said work may not be visible on the bridge for the next two or three years, but the whole project including Cedar Lake revitalization is slated to be finished by summer 2025.
Jennifer Pratt, the city community development director, said there are more immediate projects that will be done on Cedar Lake, such as launch and landing docks for kayakers and canoeists, and a boardwalk extending out onto the lake. The lake restoration also will help the city strengthen its flood control system with a bigger barrier between railroad tracks and the lake.
Council member Dale Todd, who has long championed the initiative, said ConnectCR is a historic effort, having been propelled a key step forward during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
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“If you have a good project, in a community like Cedar Rapids, with the right vision it can get done with people who will step up and make it happen,” Todd said.
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