Government

ConnectCR dream takes leap toward reality

Donors so far have pledged $4.6 million of $7 million goal

The sun sets Tuesday evening on Cedar Lake just north of downtown Cedar Rapids. A proposal calls for transforming the former ash cooling pond of Alliant Energy into a recreational hub with a kayak launch, a boardwalk and more. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The sun sets Tuesday evening on Cedar Lake just north of downtown Cedar Rapids. A proposal calls for transforming the former ash cooling pond of Alliant Energy into a recreational hub with a kayak launch, a boardwalk and more. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Volunteers behind a massive infrastructure proposal revealed Thursday how many private donations have been secured, an amount signaling that the decades-old vision of making Cedar Lake a recreational hub and the more recent concept called the Smokestack pedestrian-bike bridge are on the verge of becoming a reality — at least on paper.

The project still is expected to take five years to build from the time fundraising concludes, which is projected to be around September.

“We’ve been working behind the scenes — paddling away — but it might not have looked like we’ve been getting much done,” said Mike McGrath, chairman of the board of directors for ConnectCR. “I think this shows how far we’ve come.”

ConnectCR, which encompasses the two projects connected by a trail system through the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids, so far has raised $4.6 million out of a $7 million private fundraising goal.

The group held an event Thursday in which several of the donors, public officials and volunteers spoke, and members of the biking, kayaking, fishing and other communities who would use the amenities helped reveal the total.

Under the plan, Cedar Lake — an old ash cooling pond of Alliant Energy north of downtown — would be transformed with a kayak launch, a boardwalk, native grasses and more. On the southern edge of downtown, a twin-deck pedestrian span honoring the old Sinclair smokestack would provide an iconic structure over the Cedar River between Czech Village and the NewBo District, planners have said.

The organization plans to continue to approach businesses and other organizations and also is turning more broadly to the community to continue fundraising. Individual contributions can be made at ConnectCR.org.

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A handful of high-dollar donations has led the effort so far, including $1 million each from the John and Cindy Family Foundation and MidAmerican Energy; $400,000 from ITC Midwest; $300,000 from Transamerica; and $250,000 each from Collins Aerospace, Cargill and the McGrath Family of Dealerships.

The project is viewed as a catalyst for economic development, tourism, and helping recruit and retain workers.

“We at Collins Aerospace, as well as other organizations, are so excited about the lift that ConnectCR is going to provide us and other organizations in bringing great talent, retaining that talent, to this wonderful community,” said Steve Schulz, director of global talent acquisition for Collins.

Brian Gibbs, a key account manager at MidAmerican, added, “We agree this initiative will be a game-changer for this community, to all residents, the families, the businesses and the neighborhoods in Linn County and surrounding area. We understand the great potential it has for the economic growth and the increased tourism in the area, and we look forward to supporting and watching this project progress.”

The total project cost is estimated at $20 million. The city of Cedar Rapids and Hall-Perrine Foundation previously each committed $5 million.

“We really think this is going to make a difference, a positive difference in the community,” Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said. “This project, the bridge and this lake development are going to change Cedar Rapids forever for the absolute better. It’s going to be an exciting place for Cedar Rapidians to enjoy.”

The organization is anticipating receiving another $3 million from other public sources, such state and federal grants. Linn County has contributed $100,000 to the project in the name of water quality through the Linn County Water & Land Legacy Bond.

McGrath said ConnectCR expects to have that last piece of funding secured by September.

The city eventually will own both the lake and the bridge and has agreed to spearhead construction. The north and south cell of the lake will be handled as two separate land transfers. The south cell, which requires more significant environmental clean up, would occur later. Alliant is working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on a plan for that.

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Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director, said the city anticipates taking ownership of the north cell of the lake this spring and said the transfer of the bridge property also is close at hand.

The city hopes to get started with some initial projects, such as the kayak launch, while also working on designs for more complex, longer term elements.

“It is important for the community see progress,” she said.

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

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