CEDAR RAPIDS — A national environmental award has been bestowed upon Cedar Rapids for the cleanup of old industrial waste sites that spawned the rebirth in the New Bohemia District.
Cedar Rapids has won a 2017 Phoenix Award from the Environmental Protection Agency Region 7. The award recognizes “outstanding achievement of excellence in brownfield redevelopment,” Denise K. Chamberlain, chairwoman of the Phoenix Award Executive Committee, told Mayor Ron Corbett in a letter this month with notification of the award.
“I think what is interesting about our experience with cleaning up these sites is in our community we had the flood event and we were able to use this area that we had acquired and cleaned up to really accelerate redevelopment,” said Jennifer Pratt, the Cedar Rapids community development director.
Pratt added that city officials not only cleaned up and found a better use for the site, but also are using it for flood protection. She highlighted how redevelopment has diversified the area with housing, jobs, culture and entertainment.
“It’s a neat story,” she said.
Pratt will attend a ceremony in Pittsburgh next week as part of the EPA Brownfields Conference to accept a plaque on behalf of the city and give a presentation about brownfield redevelopment efforts in Cedar Rapids.
The New Bohemia District Redevelopment — as the award refers to the winning proposal — is one of 10 Phoenix Award winners across the country, one for each of the 10 EPA districts. Additional special winners, including a grand prize and people’s choice award, will be selected from among the regional winners during the ceremony on Wednesday. The nonprofit seeks to highlight innovation relating to environmental and community issues as models for others to use in their community, according to the organization.
“Winning projects offer a fresh take on significant environmental issues, show innovation and demonstrate masterful community impact,” according to the awards committee.
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In its application, Cedar Rapids highlighted the redevelopment of 12 acres where the old Iowa Steel, Iowa Iron Works and Quality Chef factories once stood.
The Iowa Steel buildings had been vacant from 1982 until the city acquired and demolished them in 2001. The Iowa Iron Works buildings were abandoned after the factory closed in 1996, and bought and demolished in 2001. Quality Chef moved in 1996 and its building sat vacant until 2005, when the city demolished the abandoned structure.
Cleaning up the land tainted by hazardous waste was delayed by the 2008 flood. In 2009, 1,430 tons of contaminated soil was removed from the Iowa Iron Works and Iowa Steel sites.
These sites — and its new occupants — are at the heart of the new NewBo and have been catalysts for reinventing the area as a trendy district for entrepreneurs, living, shopping and night life.
The NewBo City Market, an indoor market fueled by culinary themed start-ups, stands in place of the Quality Chef building. The Depot, a mixed use housing-office-retail development, has been erected on the former Iowa Iron Works site. The Geonetric building, which includes the Iowa Startup Accelerator, Vault co-working lab, and Iowa BIG, a school district program to connect students with professionals, opened on the old Iowa Steel site in 2014.
In all, $35 million from federal, state, local and private sources has been invested in the land and new uses.
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