CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials and community members working to advance a signature project revitalizing Cedar Lake north of downtown and tying it to a pedestrian span called the Smokestack Bridge over the river south of downtown have until Jan. 31 to cross the fundraising finish line on the project’s first phase.
A state subcommittee Thursday recommended the Enhance Iowa board award a $500,000 grant to the city for the first phase of the ConnectCR project — agreeing to only half the amount city officials requested to plug a funding gap after raising concerns about the project’s viability. The full Enhance Iowa board approved the recommendation.
City officials said they are confident the steps are in place to cap off the remaining amount of funding.
Members of the Community Action and Tourism committee of the Enhance Iowa Board, a state panel that doles out funds to communities to build recreational, cultural, educational or entertainment facilities, voted to approve the grant to help the $12.5 million Cedar Lake revitalization portion of the project, with the caveat that the city raise $1 million within 120 days.
Leaders with the city and ConnectCR told the panel they were confident this $20 million initiative is moving forward. In June, the community-led ConnectCR group announced it had surpassed its initial fundraising goal at more than $7.1 million.
The city of Cedar Rapids also has committed $1 million annually for five years to the project; and the Hall-Perrine Foundation contributed $5 million through a two-to-one matching grant. Officials said they hoped to fill the gap with state, federal and private grants.
Mike McGrath, the ConnectCR board chair, told the panel “we’re still very much moving ahead on the project.”
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He told The Gazette there’s $1 million left to raise on this first phase — a portion of the $2.3 million remaining on the project overall.
The 120-day deadline will provide “good momentum” to cap off fundraising efforts, he said.
“We’re very confident,” McGrath said. “The deadline is consistent with where the project is moving. … Clearly, it is an incredibly valuable and impactful project to the community.”
Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said the efforts to recover from the Aug. 10 derecho have complicated fundraising efforts as the city and other entities have shifted focus to help residents.
“It is a balance right now because of the impact of the derecho storm that we are being very cognizant of all of the other needs in the community,” Pratt told the panel. “ ... We have gotten a lot of commitments and support and we are confident that between these other private foundations as well as other entities in the community we will be able to bridge that gap.”
Asked how the panel could be comfortable that the project will get completed if awarded the grant, city and ConnectCR leaders assured the group that the project is happening. They said the city was seeking support from the committee to help secure the remaining funds and to help make the pitch to other donors and private groups to contribute.
Julie Kraft, the ConnectCR director of organizational development, said there may be a foundation grant in early 2021 that could be secured by the end of the year.
There are other possibilities in the works that are unclear, Kraft said, but she noted grant applications ask about support from other entities.
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Not-for-profit organizations’ funds have tightened as they funnel money toward disaster response, Kraft told the panel. But she said, “I do feel really confident that we will have a substantial amount of money coming from this foundation.”
Preparation will be underway this winter to get construction started in the spring around the fishing piers and on the playground, Pratt said. Officials previously said the whole project including Cedar Lake revitalization is slated to be finished by summer 2025.
The City Council in February approved a $1.268 million contract with Canadian firm WSP USA to provide design and engineering for new amenities at Cedar Lake, the pedestrian bridge and the connecting trails through downtown.
Council member Dale Todd, who has long championed the project, said the derecho has changed the shape of the Cedar Rapids community and what the priorities will be in the next few years. But he said the City Council is committed to seeing to the project’s completion.
“It’s an awkward dilemma that we’re in, not one that anybody expected to be in, but we also think at the same time once we show public progress, that it’ll also be a little bit easier to get some money that might be straggling,” Todd said.
Pratt told The Gazette the city has not been asked to provide additional funds, and the ConnectCR board has proved successful in fundraising for the grassroots project while applying for other grants.
“We will continue to partner with ConnectCR on the design and implementation phases to ensure the community vision is achieved,” Pratt said.
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