The Cedar Rapids City Council is giving the state back a five-million dollar “Vision Iowa” grant. Cedar Rapids got the grant in October of 2004 to help bankroll improvements on the city’s south side where a farmers market, trails, a park and a lake were envisioned.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran says the so-called “Cedar Bend” project was originally projected to cost 34 million, but the latest estimates topped 43 million and no private money had been raised.
“We worked very hard to try to find a way to keep the money,” Halloran says. In the end, Halloran and the rest of the city council — which was sworn into office this past January — decided the city could not keep the grant because it couldn’t meet the deadlines laid out in the state contract. “Rather than keep these people on the string all this time, we might as well break it down and do it in smaller increments and not as a whole package that looks like a Christmas tree,” Halloran says.
The grant was obtained by former Cedar Rapids Mayor Paul Pate, who did not seek re-election. Halloran says when she and the rest of the new council were sworn in this past January, they discovered the city had none of the six-million dollars in private money that was to have been raised for the project.
There’s also new leadership at the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce and Halloran says a new group of people are looking at ways to improve the city’s south side. Halloran says that new group is coming up with a plan that includes some of the same goals, but the scope of the project is smaller — as is the price. “So the question is: if you can’t do the Cadillac, are you going to piecemeal do the Chevrolet?” Halloran asks. “That’s what we concluded.”
Cedar Rapids becomes the only one of 13 Iowa cities to receive state “Vision Iowa” grants to return the money. The program also awards smaller grants for smaller projects, and Halloran says Cedar Rapids hopes to land a smaller grant for part of the former “Cedar Bend” concept.
To that end, Halloran and the rest of the Cedar Rapids City Council are hiking around a gravel pit today (Thursday) to determine whether that’s the first part of the new plan to pursue. “There are lots of anglers in the Cedar Rapids area who want us to make that open and available for fishing as soon as we can,” Halloran says. “We have to determine if that’s the one which ought to be done first.”
The “Vision Iowa” program handed out 226-million dollars for large-scale community-improvement projects, ranging from a sports arena in Council Bluffs to the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque.