Government

Cedar Rapids eyes Cedar Lake transfer this spring for ConnectCR project

Geese cross Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Geese cross Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids could take ownership of the north cell of Cedar Lake as soon as this spring, while the city has a less firm timeline on acquiring the old Rock Island Railroad bridge owned by CRANDIC railroad, officials said during a ConnectCR planning meeting Wednesday.

City leaders are actively involved in a $20 million recreation project dubbed ConnectCR. It is headlined by restoring the 100-plus acre lake — once a cooling pond for the old Alliant Energy power plant north of downtown — and rebuilding the old Rock Island bridge as a pedestrian span over the Cedar River between Czech Village and the NewBo District.

“You may hear people say that, ‘Oh, you know, you’re not moving forward,’” said Dale Todd, who championed the effort as a private citizen and now chairs the committee as a City Council member. “That’s wrong. There’s simply no truth to that. This is a complicated project and it’s going to take some time. At the same time, we are further along than we ever, ever ever have been on this project.”

City ownership would potentially open fundraising opportunities not available if it is privately held, and the city would agree to maintain the property going forward.

Transfer of the lake, which is grouped into different “cells,” has proved time-consuming, particularly completing legal descriptions.

For example, several abstracts make up Cedar Lake, so staff have to evaluate those and assure surveys are correct, and then combine the abstracts into one for the land transfer, said Rita Rasmussen, the city’s real estate property manager. The city attorney must also prepare a title opinion, she said.

“When you get into commercial industrial — Cedar Lake property — you need to make sure you understand what you’re getting,” Rasmussen said. “So that in itself can really slow down the process. Usually what we want to do is have an agreement, have an understanding of who’s doing what with environmental.”

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The north and south cell of the lake will be handled as two separate land transfers with the south, which requires more significant environmental clean up, occurring later.

On the north cell, city staff are waiting for the plat to be recorded and the city attorney to review purchase agreements, which will be sent to Alliant, Rasmussen said. The transfer would ultimately need to be approved by the City Council, and Rasmussen said she is hopeful that can happen this spring.

Alliant and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have been working on a cleanup plan for the south cell. A small west lobe of the lake, which is owned by Rick Stickle, has been lopped off from the project, but should not impact the enhancement plans, said Jennifer Pratt, community development director.

Transfer of the bridge will occur separately from the lake. It is less complicated, but the timeline is tied to progress of a private fundraising effort for ConnectCR, Rasmussen said. The city has committed at least $5 million to the project, as has the Hall-Perrine Foundation. Project leaders have also approached state and Linn County leaders for support separate from private fundraising.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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