CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids residents favor the return of automated speed cameras on Interstate 380, Mayor Brad Hart told a large crowd Wednesday during his annual State of the City address.
The speed cameras will be turned back on “soon,” Hart said — telling the audience “don’t worry; you will get plenty of notice” and likely a 30-day grace period in which only warnings would be issued. He did not give a specific date.
Speaking at his second annual address since being elected mayor, Hart said residents “just don’t feel safe with so many people driving recklessly” especially in I-380’s S-curve around downtown.
“If 50 people talk to me about the cameras, 49 ask me to turn the cameras back on, and the one who doesn’t want them doesn’t live in Cedar Rapids,” he said. “The cameras really do protect our citizens and our visitors.”
Numerous residents and visitors also criticize the cameras, and experts differ on whether data supports assertions I-380 is safer with them.
The speed cameras have not been issuing tickets since April 25, 2017 — turned off during a legal dispute with the Iowa Department of Transportation, which the city eventually won.
The city says it will use revenue from the cameras when they are turned back on to hire 10 police officers. But state lawmakers are considering competing bills that would either add regulations or ban the cameras.
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A crowd numbering in the hundreds braved a snowstorm to hear Hart deliver the address at the downtown DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex.
Over 45 minutes, he touched on strides the city has made with flood protection, the police department’s solving of the 39-year-old Michelle Martinko murder cold case and accreditation efforts by the police and fire departments.
Here’s five other take-aways from his State of the City address:
A wave of high-dollar private development underscored by an record of $376 million in construction permits in 2018 is expected to continue, Hart said.
In the past year, Cedar Rapids has seen work on expansions of Van Meter Inc., Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa and Transamerica’s efforts to create a “Google-like campus,” Hart said. Ahead are a $51 million hotel project at the Guaranty Bank Building block downtown, movement to redevelop vacant land on the west side of the river once reserved for a casino and a $20 million development bringing affordable housing to the NewBo District, he said.
“I firmly believe it’s just a matter of time — it’s not if, but when — new businesses and businesses expand in those areas,” Hart said of the Big Cedar Mega Park and the Super Park, large development-ready swathes with roads and utilities near The Eastern Iowa Airport.
In his speech, Hart did not mention one of the biggest black marks of the past year — the folding of the city’s tourism bureau, GO Cedar Rapids, after losing $2.3 million on the “newbo evolve” summer festival. But he was asked to address the matter in response to questions from the audience.
The 2018 State of the City speech had featured a video message from Kelly Clarkson — one of the festival’s key performers — giving a shout out to Hart and urging people to attend.
“Many residents believe the city should have stepped up and gave some way to help the numerous vendors who lost money” at newbo evolve, said the first question from the audience — asking Hart how he responds to that criticism.
Hart said the city did not put on the event. “If the city had controlled the event, this would not have happened,” he said.
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“Maybe the most telling thing is not one vendor called me and expected the city to pay them,” Hart said. “They were businesses. They took business risks that didn’t pay off and I am sorry for that. I think the only way to get past this is to make sure we are doing every thing right going forward. Every event we have going forward is going to be spot on and we are going to build back up that reputation.”
Hart said the loss has not had a negative impact on events and conferences being booked in Cedar Rapids.
Convention and Visitors Bureau
To a later question about the long-term plan for re-establishing a convention and visitors bureau, Hart said Cedar Rapids plans to engage an expert to learn best practices from around the country and city officials are beginning to gather a group of people to create a new entity to handle those needs. He said a plan could be laid out late this year.
The city has a memorandum of understanding with VenuWorks, which is contracted to book events at city venues, to also run a tourism office for 12 to 18 months.
Hart said he would support creating a new city flag. The City Council’s development committee began Tuesday what is expected to be a yearlong process to devise a new one.
“In the last year or two, it was named the ugliest city flag in America,” Hart said. “That is why you don’t see it that often. ... Getting a more modern logo included in the flag would be kind of cool. We are working on other things right now, but it may happen in the future.”
The completion of the Highway 100 extension should bring major opportunities for growing the community on the city’s west side, he said.
“The Highway 100 extension offers critical expansion opportunities for Cedar Rapids and the Cedar Rapids School District,” Hart said.
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