CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids is on the verge of acquiring what’s left of the old Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway bridge over the Cedar River just south of downtown so a towering pedestrian bridge can be erected in its place.
Already named the Smokestack Bridge, the crossing would pay homage to the old Sinclair meatpacking plant that helped write Cedar Rapids’ early history and serve as the southern bookend of the ConnectCR recreation project.
“It’s a huge moment,” said Steve Sovern, who has championed the bridge project for years. “This is the city committing to seeing this project come together, along with the rest of us. It confirms the reality of the Smokestack Bridge.”
The city has been in discussions with the CRANDIC Railway Co., which currently owns the bridge, to acquire it for $1 following a resolution by Cedar Rapids City Council at its Sept. 24 meeting, officials said Wednesday.
The other bookend of ConnectCR features the restoration and enhancement of Cedar Lake just north of downtown with fishing jetties, floating islands, natural wetlands and more. The estimated price tag for the combined project is $20 million, with the money coming from public and private sources.
City and project leaders are calling ConnectCR a signature infrastructure investment that would draw people to the area as well as serve residents with recreational opportunities like biking, fishing, nature strolls, paddling sports and more.
Concepts depict a cable-stayed, twin deck suspension bridge with a 192-foot-tall replica of the smokestack from the Sinclair site. The smokestack, along with most of the factory buildings, were demolished after the 2008 flood and fires.
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The bridge would connect the New Bohemia District to near Mount Trashmore and tie into the Cedar River recreation trail. In some ways, it would come full circle to the late 1800s and early 1900s when Sinclair workers used an attached footbridge to walk to work from the old Stumptown settlement near where Mount Trashmore is located.
Also sometimes referred to as the Rock Island Railway bridge and years ago the packinghouse bridge, the old rail bridge it has been out of commission and overgrown for decades. After the 2008 flood knocked much of it down, all that remains is the abutments, a portion of the deck and piers.
Bill Micheel, assistant community development director, said it remains up in the air whether construction on the Smokestack bridge would start from scratch or reuse what is there if possible and practical. Conceptual renderings have it both ways.
A group of advocates has spearheaded both the lake and bridge projects, but in recent years has partnered with the city to bring the project to life.
The city would ultimately own and maintain the two pieces of infrastructure.
The city acquired much of Cedar Lake in June from its former owner Alliant Energy, which long used it as a cooling pond for its coal-fired power plant. The city plans to acquire most of the rest of the lake from Alliant this fall after additional environmental testing occurs.
Work on the two major infrastructure projects — the bridge and lake — is expected to begin after fundraising closes later this year, and would take about five years to complete.
The city has released a request for qualification for a consultant to manage the bridge and lake projects. Applications are due Sept. 9.
On Wednesday, Julie Kraft, a spokeswoman for ConnectCR, reported they group eclipsed $5 million in private fundraising out of a goal of $7 million.
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The city has committed $5 million as has the Hall-Perrine Foundation, and project leaders anticipate qualifying for other state and federal grants once the infrastructure is in public hands.
“Private fundraising is going well and is ahead of schedule,” said Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director. “We want to make sure there isn’t a hold up on our end.”
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