The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Archive for April 14th, 2009|Daily archive page

Flood victim McGrane first council incumbent to enter this year’s City Hall race

In City Hall, Jerry McGrane on April 14, 2009 at 5:18 pm

District 3 council member Jerry McGrane announced Tuesday announced that he is seeking reelection to the city’s only council district that includes both east-side and west-side precincts.

McGrane, 69, lost his home at 1018 Second St. SE to the June 2008 flood, and he says he wants to stay on the council because he personally understands what other flood victims still wrestle with as they work to recover from the flood.

“I’m still the voice of the City Council when it comes to flooded people,” McGrane says.

At the same time, McGrane, who parlayed his past work as president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association into an election victory in 2005, says he also wants to retain his seat on the council so he can be a lead voice on neighborhood revitalization efforts.

“We still have a lot to accomplish with the Enhance Our Neighborhoods effort, and there’s a lot of housing problems and the beginning of a lot of crime problems,” he said.

McGrane and his wife, Judy, currently reside in one of the manufactured houses provided to flood victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, though he will return in June to the Oakhill neighborhood in a house now under construction at 1105 Eighth St. SE.

Of note of late, McGrane joined forces with council members Justin Shields and Monica Vernon in an unsuccessful effort to wrestle some control away from City Manager Jim Prosser. The three-member minority on the nine-member council tried to create a flood recovery CEO that would sidestep Prosser and answer to the council. But the council majority nixed the idea, saying the city’s charter allows only one chief executive.

McGrane, though, said his campaign for reelection has nothing to do with trying to replace Prosser, the city’s first city manager in the city’s three-year-old council/manager government.

“I’m running because I’ve done a good job. I’ve helped a lot of people,” McGrane said.

District 3 comprises both the flood-damaged Oakhill Jackson/New Bohemia areas on the east side of the Cedar River and the flood-damaged Czech Village area on the west side of the river.

McGrane said he is aware of reports brought back from Grand Forks, N.D., where some Cedar Rapids city leaders went after the June flood to see how the North Dakota city had dealt with its own flood disaster in 1997. Apparently, the entire City Council up for reelection in Grand Forks was defeated following the flood.

McGrane said it would be a mistake for Cedar Rapids voters to fill all six seats up for election in 2009 with new faces. Much has been invested in the city’s flood recovery to date, and some continuity is important to see the recovery through, he said.

McGrane characterized himself as a council member who listens more than talks, and he noted that he is the only current council without a college degree.

“What you see is what you get,” he said. “No thrills. No frills. Here I am. If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask me.”

His council district also stretches into higher-end neighborhoods on the city’s southeast quadrant, and McGrane noted that he sided with neighbors to make sure the East Post Road bridge over Indian Creek remained a two-lane bridge and to block a plan to connect two sections of Bever Avenue SE that neighbors feared would turn the street into a thoroughfare.

Big steam bills, lost Paramount revenue prompt request for $200,000 more in hotel/motel money for U.S. Cellular Center

In City Hall on April 14, 2009 at 4:18 pm

High steam costs and lost revenue because of the 2008 flood are prompting the manager of the U.S. Cellular Center and Paramount Theatre to ask City Hall for $200,000 in leftover hotel/motel tax revenue to help pay the bills.

In a memo to the City Council, Scott Schoenike, executive director for VenuWorks of Cedar Rapids, reports that steam costs for the U.S. Cellular Center operation have more than tripled during the winter despite his efforts to keep temperatures down in the arena when it was not in use.

For the month of February alone, the center’s steam bill was $52,593, up from $14,000 from the February before, Schoenike reports.

There are many similar refrains from customers small and big – including the Quaker Oats and Cargill plants near downtown – that had depended in years past on cheap steam from Alliant Energy’s now-flood-wrecked Sixth Street Generating Plant.

In addition, Schoenike tells the City Council that his operation is facing budget pressures because the Paramount Theatre is out of commission and not bringing in revenue because of the flood.

Schoenike reports that he has cut staff by 25 percent and made other cuts that in total have axed $600,000 in costs from the operating budget. Even so, the operation needs the $200,000 in extra hotel/motel revenue, he says.

The City Council is expected to approve the request on Wednesday evening.

Community center/recreation center called a ‘Multigenerational Community Life Center’ in the hunt for $5.75 million for planning/design

In City Hall on April 14, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Throw it into the mix.

The city’s Parks & Recreation Department has gotten the paperwork together and is now joining a crowd of local entities in the competition to try to pry loose some post-flood money from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

The city department effort is focused on garnering a $5.75-million EDA grant for what project backers are now calling a “Multigenerational Community Life Center.”

The life center project is one of the 15 in the community’s four-year-old, Fifteen in 5 initiative — 15 projects in five years. It often has been referred to as part community center and part recreation center.

In a memo to the City Council, Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director, says the $5.75 million will pay for planning and architectural and engineering fees, but not the cost of construction.

Sina says the new structure could be a new home for what now is the flood-damaged Witwer Senior Center building, the flood-damaged Time Check Recreation Center and the worn-out Ambroz Recreation Center and Bender Pool.

As a Fifteen in 5 project, the community center-recreation center has had an active, dedicated committee studying the concept and promoting it. However, the project got pushed a little to the side as the city and community has worked to deal with the aftermath of the June 2008 flood.

The prospect of a federal EDA grant now has brought the project to the forefront again.

Three weeks ago, the City Council was asked to prioritize which projects it thought were most deserving of limited EDA money.

The council settled on a ranking that placed projects in this order: downtown steam system, first; a public fiber-optic system, second; the community center-recreation center, third, tied with a steam system for Mercy Medical Center; a steam system for Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital, fourth; improvements to the U.S. Cellular Center and the construction of a new convention center next door, fifth; and a Regional Commerce Center, downtown freight rail planning and parking system upgrades, tied for sixth.

At the time, one local community leader noted that the city of Coralville already had secured an $8-million EDA grant.

On Tuesday, Ellen Habel, assistant city administrator in Coralville, said the city had not yet been awarded an EDA grant. She did say, though, that the city submitted its $7.16-millon grant last fall, has had a site visit from EDA and is now awaiting a decision.

The Coralville project would elevate the rail corridor along Highway 6 and incorporate permanent and removable flood protection into it to protect against a flood one foot above the 2008 one, Habel explained.