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Brick’s Bar & Grill finds soft spot at City Hall; council asks police chief to negotiate if he turns up nothing beyond shaky liquor license application

In City Hall, Downtown District on April 8, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Brick’s Bar & Grill, 320 Second Ave. SE, got some sympathy from the City Council last night and may be able to renew its liquor license.

The bar’s owner, Jade Hronik, stumbled into problems with the Police Department for, as Police Chief Greg Graham said last night, not being truthful on her liquor license application.

Graham cited three specifics on the license renewal application in which Hronik, who signed the document, did not report her own prior intoxication arrest and the felony arrests in 2006 of two others connected to the bar.

In her own defense, Hronik noted that she purchased and renovated the downtown Brick’s after the June flood, and that she had correctly filled out paperwork in September on the bar and for another drinking establishment in the city.

She said her license renewal application at Brick’s was incomplete, not untruthful, and she said she had not paid sufficient attention to it but had another person handle it.

Council members Tom Podzimek and Monica Vernon asked Graham to look at Hronik’s earlier liquor applications and see if they, in fact, supported Hronik’s position.

Council member Brian Fagan asked Graham if he would be willing to meet with Hronik, if all else is in order, to see if he can create a consequence for the untruthfulness short of a license denial. Graham, who said consequences are important, said he would be willing to do so.

In any event, should the council ultimately deny a license to Brick’s, the bar can stay open as it appeals to the state’s Alcohol Beverages Division. Appeals can take up to a year to resolve.

The Police Department in recent weeks convinced the City Council to block the renewal of a liquor license for The Tycoon, which is just down the block from Brick’s. The Tycoon, which did not move to renew its license in timely fashion, now has a probationary license and has agreed to better police its bar customers in an agreement with the Police Department.

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McGrane says federal funds might be available for city to get into the steam utility business

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Downtown District, Floods, Jerry McGrane, Monica Vernon on January 21, 2009 at 3:13 am

The city of Cedar Rapids already has city-owned utilities -– a water plant, a waste-water treatment facility and a sanitary sewer and storm sewer system. It also considers its garbage pickup and recycling operation as a utility.

Council member Jerry McGrane on Tuesday suggested he might be pushing his council colleagues in the direction of creating another utility, one that would create steam for heat and other uses in and near the downtown.

McGrane made note of his lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., last week with council colleagues Justin Shields and Monica Vernon to talk to Iowa’s Congressional delegation and some federal agencies about federal funds to help Cedar Rapids with its flood recovery.

McGrane said the Cedar Rapids delegation was told that federal money might be available to support the reestablishment of a downtown steam system if the city itself actually was involved in the ownership of such a utility. The thought is the city could have a private entity run the operation and ultimately buy out the city’s investment after a number of years.

It remains to be seen: McGrane is more of a decisive voice on matters concerning neighborhoods and housing.

However, council member Monica Vernon said on Tuesday, too, that the city had to figure out a solution to the steam problem.

The problem exists because the June flood damaged Alliant Energy’s aged Sixth Street Generating Station, which had produced electricity and inexpensive steam and ran it through a network of Alliant steam pipes to Quaker and Cargill and other industries near downtown, to Coe College, the city’s two hospitals and the buildings downtown.

This winter, Alliant has created a temporary setup to provide the steam, but at a price four to five times the previous price with no promise of rebuilding to prior more reasonably priced steam again.

This week, Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital announced plans to seek federal funds to build their own steam system, and they will be in front of the City Council tonight to talk about the plan.

The two entities, though, said this week they are still open to a broader solution to the steam issue, though Pat Ball, the city’s utility director, on Tuesday forewarned the council not to expect any big news at its meeting tonight.

An Alliant spokesman said the same.

Alliant customers Coe and St. Luke’s seek federal disaster funds for their own steam plant

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Downtown District, Floods on January 19, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital are preparing to build their own operation to produce steam now that Alliant Energy has signaled it does not plan to rebuild its flood-damaged Sixth Street Generating Plant.

 

In a memo to City Hall, Coe and St. Luke’s said they will be seeking the City Council’s backing as the two entities pursue federal funds in the $4-million range from the U.S. Department of Commerce for a replacement steam system.

 

The memo, signed by Ted Townsend, president and CEO of St. Luke’s Hospital, and James Phifer, president of Coe College, states that proposed charges to customers that Alliant said were needed to rebuild the Sixth Street Generating Plant “were not economically viable” for either Coe or the hospital.

 

Using a temporary steam setup this winter, Coe is facing energy costs of $1 million more than they had been paying a year when the Alliant plant was making electricity and also steam for the downtown and near downtown, Coe’s Phifer says.

 

St. Luke’s and Coe are among a small group of larger users of the Alliant steam operation that includes Quaker and Cargill while a larger group of smaller users in and near downtown also have depended on the cheap steam from the Alliant plant.

 

The City Council has talked for a few months now about wanting to play a role in keeping a viable steam system in place downtown even if Alliant is not involved.

 

Both Coe and St. Luke’s say they are still open to a collective solution with other partners. At the same time, they need to get something more affordable in place by next winter, the entities’ executives say in their memo to the city.

 

Cedar Rapidians get shot at mastering a new skill: back-in angle parking

In Brian Fagan, Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Downtown District, Jerry McGrane, Monica Vernon, Tom Podzimek on September 9, 2008 at 4:00 am

Sometimes it seems hard for nine people, the nine members of the City Council, to make a decision.

It seems, too, that it might be easier sometimes if they just ask the city’s experts what they think.

Take downtown parking.

It’s been little short of a free-for-all since the June flood.

No meters. No fees. No enforcement.

Giant on-street Dumpsters and disaster services crews have given way to contractors and big pickups as the downtown is in the initial throes of rebuilding what the flood damaged.

Behind the scenes, the city’s parking manager, one of its traffic engineers and the Downtown District’s executive had spent some weeks working to come up with a parking plan that might bring some order to the flood-damaged downtown as it rebuilds and comes back to life.

The hope was that a post-flood parking scheme might take affect Sept. 15. It’s been put off now until Oct. 1 at the earliest.

The plan features three components: a reduced rate for all monthly parkers; limiting parking on Second and Third Avenues SE and SW to construction vehicles and equipment; and changing parking on First Street SE and the Second Avenue and Third Avenue bridges to angle parking to add more spaces than the current parallel parking there. The extra spaces are needed because the city’s rickety, flood-hit First Street Parkade won’t reopen.

Once again, at an 8 a.m. Monday session, the City Council took on a discussion of the downtown parking matter. The discussion went an hour.

The heart of the discussion centered on angle parking and a concept foreign to Cedar Rapids — back-in angle parking.

Ron Griffith, a traffic engineer for the city, told the council that all the studies “emphatically” say that back-in angle parking results in fewer accidents than front-in angle parking.

Still, council members Jerry McGrane and Chuck Wieneke thought back-in angle parking was not something that local motorists, particularly older ones, wanted any part of.

Understand, too, this City Council for more than a year had had big hopes for revitalizing the downtown into a place of sidewalk cafes, bicycle routes, pedestrian strolls and slower traffic flow — angle parking helps slow traffic.

Many of those thoughts are still swirling as the council also is trying to get the disaster-hit downtown off its knees.

So council member Brian Fagan was asking what the new post-flood parking scheme might do for bicycles and sidewalk cafes, and council member Tom Podzimek was reminding council members not to forget the vision.

Meanwhile, council member Monica Vernon had Googled parking plans and had run on a few reports that suggested that back-in parking might not lead to more fender benders between cars, but cars hit parking meters more often, Vernon said she’d read.

At one point, someone suggested that the back-in approach made it easier for someone to put something in the trunk, while someone else said people in the downtown put items in side doors, not trunks.

None of the council members asked the city professional staff what they thought might be best.

Eventually, Vernon put her foot down and asked that the council not put off adopting some kind of parking strategy to await more data comparing accident rates of back-in verses front-in angle parking and so on.

Vernon said the council had bigger fish to fry, and in any event, the parking plan was an emergency one that would be sorted out and refined as contractors left the downtown and motorists got some experience with back-in angle parking.

Back-in angle parking it is, the council said.

You want to see it in action: The contractors along Second Avenue SE in the downtown started doing a couple weeks ago.

At meeting’s end Monday morning, the council said it supported construction zones on Second and Third Avenues and a reduced parking rate for monthly parkers as a way to keep businesses downtown.

It was still unclear if the pioneering, back-in angle parking for Cedar Rapids would be on one side or both sides of First Street SE between First and Seventh avenues SE. It will be on just one side of the Second and Third avenue bridges. Most of the back-in spots will be reserved for monthly parkers.

The city of Des Moines is one spot that has been trying back-in angle parking, and Gary Fox, that city’s traffic engineer, reported Monday it is working well in limited use in Des Moines.

Fox said the city of Des Moines is using the back-in angle parking on two downtown bridges, where most of the spaces are used by downtown employees. The spaces on the bridges are 12 feet wide or three feet wider than the typical angle parking space.

Fox said back-in angle parking also is used on a few other streets on the east side of the downtown across the Des Moines River from the core of the downtown.

Des Moines has an entertainment district on Court Avenue, which features front-in angle parking and sidewalk cafes. Fox said hitting outdoor diners with vehicle exhausts was why those angle parking spots have not be converted to back-in spaces.

Fox said traffic engineers increasingly have come to dislike the traditional front-in angle parking in an era of behemoth SUVs and pickup trucks. It is nearly impossible to see backing out of one of those spots, he said. It’s easier, he added, to drive straight out if you had backed in in the first place.

The city of Cedar Rapids’ Griffith said, in the end, back-in angle parking is really little different than traditional back-in parallel parking that all drivers had to learn before getting a driver’s license.

Doug Neumann, president/CEO of the Downtown District, said the district was eager to get a parking plan in place. Businesses have returned to many buildings above the ground floor, and some of them need parking spaces on the side streets — those will remain parallel parking with meters — for their clientele. Right now, downtown employees park in the unenforced spots and stay all day, Neumann said.

According to the city of Des Moines, several cities use back-in angle parking, including Seattle, Portland, Ore., Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Ariz., and Pottstown, Pa.

Minneapolis developer adds fresh ideas for riverfront: indoor farmers market, hotel, conference center, plaza, housing

In City Hall, Downtown District, Monica Vernon on May 23, 2008 at 2:24 pm

If you squint just right you can start to see pretty pictures turn to reality, can’t you?

This week, accomplished Minneapolis developer/builder/property manager George Sherman came to City Hall again to dazzle the City Council — with photos of his projects in the Twin Cities, Des Moines, Kansas City, St. Louis; and with his ideas and images of what he would like to do in Cedar Rapids.

Imagine: The creaky, old First Street Parkade, which is slated for demolition, is gone across from the Alliant building and in its place, between Second and Third avenues, is a new 140-150-room hotel, with conference space, riverfront restaurant, riverfront plaza for nightlife and condominiums on the hotel’s top floor or floors.

Imagine: A 38,500 square foot, indoor farmers market, with space for outdoor vending in season, as well as a riverfront restaurant and a four-story apartment building (the first floor, which is in a floodplain, would be for parking) along Eighth Avenue SE in what now is the little-used, concrete swath called the city’s Park & Ride lot. The new federal courthouse is expected to go up across Eighth Avenue from the site.

Eventually, over six to eight years, the idea would be for a larger, mixed-use development, with a total of 300-400 apartments, 150 condominiums and a little retail to follow the first construction in the Park & Ride lot.

Imagine: On the west side of the river, upstream from the police station, 40 to 50 units of senior housing along the riverfront.

“I think you nailed it,” council member Monica Vernon told Sherman this week.

In a competition among developers, the City Council picked Sherman in January as its “preferred” developer for a first project of downtown housing. By picking a preferred developer, the council’s intent is to trade incentives for what will be a development with some risk in a still uncertain downtown housing market. At the same time, too, the city will be able to emphasize certain design standards it might not otherwise be able to ask for.

In March, Sherman told the council that he would build rental units before for-sale units because of the downturn in the housing market in Iowa, and to a greater extent, in much of the nation.

In Sherman’s return visit to City Hall this week, you could get the sense that City Manager Jim Prosser has ears, too, and that he hears a little of the urgency from City Council and, no doubt, others that they want to see talk, consulting, planning and designing turn to getting something built.

Prosser told the council this week that now it and the community have an “experienced developer” on hand and an accomplished riverfront planner in place. A year-old downtown revitalization plan, which is viewed as something of a bible for the revitalization of downtown and the area around it, also remains front and center.

“We intended to do just what we’re doing,” Prosser said.

The planner is Sasaki Associates, Watertown, Mass., which the council picked a week ago to create a master plan for the city’s riverfront.

Sasaki representatives have tossed out their own head-turning brainstorms — a riverfront amphitheater right downtown; First Street West as a  “great boulevard;” maybe moving the dam below downtown, which would raise the river and turn it into a “sheet” of water that would look nicer and could be used for boating and ice skating in winter.

Sherman, founder and owner of Sherman Associates, said this week that he would watch Sasaki as it developed its riverfront plan to see how his housing ideas could fit into it.

OPN Architects Inc. of Cedar Rapids is working with both Sasaki and Sherman.

By contract, the Sasaki firm should have ideas for downtown riverfront redevelopment in place in 120 days.

Both firms — coming from the outside as they do — have a way of sounding as if they have a fresh insight that a place can’t have about itself.

For instance, Sherman this week said Cedar Rapids has not enjoyed the downtown growth that other Midwest cities have.

At the same time, Sherman said that Iowa, with its robust farm economy, has weathered the national economic downturn better than most other places, excepting Wyoming, Seattle and a few other spots.

Even so, he said it likely will take until 2010 for developers like himself to get interested anew in building more for-sale housing, though he said now is the time to begin planning. However, he expected current problems in credit markets to fix themselves a year earlier, in 2009, so that banks will be in a position to provide capital for building projects by then.

Sherman’s immediate interest in Cedar Rapids is not the downtown, but the near-downtown.

He said he will try to find a site this summer between the two hospitals to build 40 to 80 units of “workplace housing” to provide walkable, safe rental units for hospital employees who want to live close to work.

Sherman predicted that the price of gasoline will never drop from where it is today, and as a result, more people really will want to be within walking distance of work.

He said his first downtown project is apt to be the apartments, indoor farmers market and riverfront restaurant along Eighth Avenue SE because the site for a hotel across from the Alliant building likely wouldn’t be ready for development until parking is found elsewhere to replace the parkade there.

Sherman said different cities build along the riverfront differently. San Antonio has built right up to the water, while Minneapolis keeps buildings back.

 

Council member Wieneke wants to know about the city’s parking privatization plans that he’s never been told a thing about

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Downtown District, Justin Shields on May 22, 2008 at 8:32 pm

Council member Chuck Wieneke is the second City Council to bark about a plan, which is under study, to turn the city’s downtown parking operation over to a private operator.

Handling over all of the city’s parking operations — meters, enforcement, parkades and skywalks — to a private company would mean nine full-time city employees, three half-time ones and a less-than-half-time one would be out of jobs.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Wieneke asked the city staff to talk to him about any kind of downtown parking changes that are under study and may be in the works.

“As of this time, I’ve never been told anything about what is going on,” he said. “Nobody has every shared anything with me.”

The Downtown District and city staff, in fact, have been looking at the prospect of turning some or all of the city-run parking system over to private management. A Gazette story reported as much five weeks ago, noting that a committee had selected two companies as finalists for the job.

The thought then was that a private company would be put in place by July 1 if any move was going to be made.

Doug Neumann, president/CEO of the Downtown District, has said that the district likes the idea that a private company may bring better service and spiffier facilities to the downtown parking operation. Neumann also has said that employees for a private operator would make less than current city employees.

Council member Justin Shields made his disdain for a parking privatization plan known last week when he threatened to vote against the hiring of new police chief, Greg Graham. Shields noted that Graham would be earning more than the chief he was replacing, Mike Klappholz, yet the city might end up eliminating parking positions for lower-waged employees.

 

Chuck Swore had dam idea first; he lives, though another Chuck occupies his former council seat

In Chuck Swore, Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Downtown District on May 14, 2008 at 5:29 pm

The City Council this evening is expected to pick between two accomplished design firms for the job of creating a master plan for one of the council’s top priorities — riverfront redevelopment.

In front of the council last week, one of the design firms, Sasaki Associates Inc., Watertown, Mass., took a risk and showed off some concepts for how the riverfront could change.

They talked about turning First Avenue West along the river into a “great boulevard” with trees on each side and in the middle and how multistory buildings would go up on the west side of the boulevard and face the river.

They also had a pretty image of an open-air riverfront amphitheater, on the west side of the river, just upriver from the Police Department.

It was the third idea and image that had some on the council remembering former District 4 council member Chuck Swore without even mentioning him by name.

That idea, which Gina Ford from Sasaki even called kind of out there, involved moving the dam above the downtown to below the downtown. Such a move would raise the level of the Cedar River through the downtown and create a still pool of water there. People then could the river right in the downtown for boating and even skating in winter, was the thought. Raising the river, too, would make people actually see the river. Now, it is mostly out of sight as it runs through downtown, Ford and her colleague, Mark Dawson said.

Swore on numerous occasions talked about the very idea of a dam below the downtown that would raise the water level up in the downtown.

In recent days, Swore, though, said he would keep the present dam in place and build a new dam further downriver to accomplish the task.

By the way, Swore reports he’s doing fine. Even in his council campaign last year, he was excited about the idea of a new museum in the city to memorialize the city’s contribution to engineering and science — Art Collins and all that.

And don’t be surprised to see that idea emerge at some point. Swore also is working with a local developers’ group, pushing its ideas.

Swore served two years on the city’s first council under the city’s new council/manager government. He was defeated last fall for the west-side District 4 council seat by Chuck Wieneke.

 

New life for the riverfront looks likely: The effort welcomes your input, but it doesn’t need your approval this time

In Brian Fagan, Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Downtown District, Justin Shields, Tom Podzimek, Viewpoint on May 10, 2008 at 8:27 pm

All eyes once again are on the Cedar River running through downtown.

Only today, there appears to be huge differences from just five years ago — from January 2003, when some of the community’s leaders were excited about a $10.5-million grant the city had won from the state Vision Iowa Board for the RiverRun redevelopment project.

Back then, local elected officials, who were required to come up with local matching dollars to obtain the state grant, turned to the public and asked it to pass a local-option sales tax to support the project. The public voted against the tax in June 2003, and RiverRun fell apart. A scaled-down version of the project, Cedar Bend, couldn’t find local financial support, and it, too, had to give up on Vision Iowa money.

It was kind of embarrassing for Cedar Rapids.

One thing that seemed to indicate just how much things have changed in five years came in a comment council member Chuck Wieneke made during a council session May 8 at which the council was interviewing two nationally accomplished design firms in a competition to design a riverfront improvement plan for Cedar Rapids.

Wieneke told representatives from one of the firms, Sasaki Associates Inc., Watertown, Mass., that he understood that Cedar Rapids’ corporate community was buying in to the riverfront plan. But he wasn’t sure that there yet was “citizen buy-in.” He said bottom drawers at City Hall and elsewhere are lined with past plans for the riverfront and downtown that never came to anything. He said citizens know that. He said citizen buy-in was important to him.

Both design firms, Sasaki and Close Landscape Architecture+, Minneapolis, detailed their approaches for incorporating public comment into the design process.

But, in truth, what the public thinks at this point isn’t going to matter as vitally as it did in the RiverRun days.

No one is talking about any tax or bond votes this time.

This time the City Council already has committed money, new state money looks like a sure bet and, by all accounts, corporate Cedar Rapids is ready to open the private-sector wallet.

The only public votes that will matter will be the ones in November 2010 when six of the nine City Council members will be up for reelection.

This is one of those times when the city’s elected officials are running with the idea that the public elected them to make some decisions on their own, not with polls, market surveys or ballot initiatives.

………………………………………………

The May 8 council session with the two riverfront design firms was a treat to watch. It went something like this:

This time, the pretty pictures will not be rolled up and placed in a City Hall basement to gather dust, predicted Bruce Jacobson, partner with Close Landscape Architecture+, one of the two consulting firms picked as finalists among 18 applicants to help create a new riverfront design for the city of Cedar Rapids.

This time, Jacobson said, stuff is going to get built.

That expectation is based on an incredible change in the landscape compared to just a few years ago.

That’s what Dan Thies, president/CEO of OPN Architects Inc., Cedar Rapids, assured. His firm has aligned with Sasaki Associates Inc. in the competition for the Cedar Rapids riverfront project.

“I think for the first time in a long time the community is poised for something great to happen,” Thies said.

For instance, this time, the City Council has agreed in the budget year beginning July 1 to sell $3.5 million in debt to help with downtown revitalization projects.

This time, too, the city’s biggest private employers have made financial commitments to downtown redevelopment, council members, Doug Neumann, the president/CEO of the Downtown District, and other local community leaders have said.

Also this time, local leaders — it seems a little incredible – helped convinced the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Chet Culver to create a new, $42-million pot of money for the very specific thing that Cedar Rapids city, community and corporate leaders are mobilized to do. That is, to enhance the city’s riverfront.

The new pot of money is called RECAT, Riverfront Enhancement Community Attraction and Tourism.

And Cedar Rapids’ application for the money is at the ready, awaiting the state’s Vision Iowa Board, which will dispense the RECAT money, to establish new rules for handing the money out.

The focus this time is also different. Much of talk about the big Vision Iowa projects of a few years ago was about creating unique venues to attract people to a city from far and wide.

So RiverRun ended up with a whitewater kayak course on the Cedar River, which turned out to be an idea that local voters never quite gra

This time, the idea is more about creating a downtown that people who live here and near here will first come to enjoy and embrace. Make the riverfront and the downtown the kind of place that the locals want to live near, work near and play near, is the thought.

Employees and employers will stay here, expand here and move here if the city does that. The tourists will come later.

Both designer finalists competing to help the city of Cedar Rapids redefine the Cedar River as it runs through downtown have impressive records of accomplishment.

Close Landscape Architecture+ showed off all it has down along the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities, while Sasaki Associates showed off major riverfront project in big cities like Cincinnati and Indianapolis and smaller ones like Stamford, Conn., and Wheeling, W.Va.

Sasaki representatives Mark Dawson and Gina Ford also used the time with the council to show off some ideas and images of what could happen to Cedar Rapids’ riverfront and downtown.

The images were surprising:

One turned First Street SW along the river into a “great boulevard” with three rows of trees and new multi-story buildings on the streets west side, facing the river.

A second picture imagined moving the existing dam, above downtown, to below downtown, a move that would raise the water level downtown and turn it in a sheet of water. Boaters could boat in-season, ice skaters could skate in winter.

A third picture had a riverfront amphitheater, on the river’s west side, just upriver from the police station and looking across the river to the heart of downtown.

There were spectacular renderings of a pedestrian/bicyclist bridge across the river, touching at the base of May’s Island.

Both design firms have had much experience in creating riverfront features that are able to endure flooding in the periodic times when the river floods.

Part of Cedar Rapids’ need is to figure out a way to deal with flooding through the downtown without the existing, unsightly flood walls.

Those walls, as it turns out, do not provide necessary protection against a 100-year flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined in the last year.

As a result, the designer picked to create a master plan for the downtown will be working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on flood issues.

As interesting as anything at the council/design-consultant session was OPN Architects’ Thies unveiling of a rendering for a Great America II building, which he said his firm is in the process of working on. The idea is that the building would be built along the river next to the Great America building, the last multistory building to go up downtown. Great America II is planned to include retail, riverfront restaurant, offices and top-story residential units, Thies said.

Thies’ firm also is working with Sherman Associates, Minneapolis, the “preferred” developer selected by the City Council to provide a first new downtown housing development.

At the same time, the city is moving ahead on plans to build a new Intermodal Transit Facility at Ninth Avenue and Third Street SE. And the city is still waiting for federal construction money so the long-planned federal courthouse can move ahead. It’s will go up between the river and Second Street SE and Eighth and Seventh avenues SE and will face back toward downtown.

At the May 8 council session, council member Justin Shields wondered about the possibility of making the river in downtown an attraction 12 months of the year.

Council colleague Tom Podzimek talked about his interest in a creative approach to flood control so that the downtown would not require an unsightly flood levee. To that, Sasaki Associates representative Gina Ford pointed to the riverfront park in Cincinnati that she said is built to flood. “Flood protection doesn’t mean you have to build walls,” she said.

Council member Brian Fagan said he wanted the riverfront effort to serve as a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

To that, Sasaki representative Mark Dawson said his design idea would “leverage” the river, what he called the downtown’s greatest asset.

“Now it’s down and out of sight and not touchable,” Dawson said. He pointed to his firm’s riverfront project in Reading, Pa., in which cleaning up the riverfront and turning building windows to face the river had people really seeing the river there for the first time.

Fagan said he understood that it might take 10 to 15 years to complete a riverfront revitalization. But he also said the council was interested in a “quick turnaround” on at least part of the effort.

OPN’s Thies said “great rigor” had been shown over some months to line up corporate, state and local government support for the riverfront and downtown.

“There is energy, momentum and excitement right now,” he said. He talked about “finding that piece” of a long-range effort that can serve as a “demonstration project” to prove that something substantial is in the offing.

Close Landscape Architecture+’s Bob Close said the task is to turn the Cedar River into more than just a “ribbon” of water. The idea is to make it a place that local people repeatedly will seek out and want to be near.

That could mean trails, public art and a riverfront amphitheater, he said.

Close’s Bruce Jacobson pointed to all-grass, 18-hole miniature golf course near the river in Minneapolis where it’s difficult to get a tee time, he said. He talked about the need to animate, activate and populate the riverfront.

 

Cedar Rapids still awaits new U.S. courthouse as head of the GSA, the federal agency that manages courthouse money, is ousted

In City Hall, Downtown District, Viewpoint on May 1, 2008 at 8:19 pm

Washington, D.C., can seem a long way away, and the comings and goings of political appointees there can seem pretty irrelevant to the price of gasoline at Casey’s and the cost of Cheerios at the Hy-Vee.

Even so, it was hard to miss national newspaper stories on Wednesday that reported the forced resignation of the head of the U.S. General Services Administration, Lurita Doan, at the request of the White House.

Some things that happen at the GSA matter for Cedar Rapids watchers because the city has been eager for the GSA to get moving on the $100-million-plus federal courthouse, more than a decade in the planning.

The GSA doesn’t fund projects, Congress does, the agency long has pointed out.

Nonetheless.

The problems of the GSA’s Doan were reportedly several in her two-year tenure running an agency which manages $50 billion in contracts every year.

The Washington Post cited two lawmakers who were most critical of Doan: Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Of note, the Washington Post and The New York Times reported Wednesday that Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee turned up evidence that Doan may have violated the Hatch Act in January 2007 when she allegedly asked how the agency might help Republican Congressional candidates in districts in which Republicans might unseat Democrats in 2008 or districts in which Republican incumbents might be vulnerable.

The Post further reported that:

“The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog agency, conducted its own probe of those claims and concluded that she made the remarks and violated the Hatch Act, which generally prohibits employees of federal agencies from using their positions for political purposes. In a letter last June, Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch urged President Bush to discipline Doan ‘to the fullest extent,’ which included removing her from office.”

Again, Washington, D.C., is a long way away, and who knows what any of that means.

One thing is known, though.

In an extraordinary move in mid-March, local Cedar Rapids officials joined Senior Judge David Hansen and Judge Michael Melloy — both judges are housed in Cedar Rapids as members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and both are advocates for a new federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids — in a public-relations event to ask Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon, to see what he could do to find special money to get the Cedar Rapids courthouse project moving.

Loebsack didn’t shy away from calling what was being asked for what it was, a federal “earmark.”

It had come to that, though, because the local officials had become sufficiently soured and suspicious of the federal courthouse funding program and the ability of it to deliver funds based on a project’s merits and the length of time a project has been in line for funding.

The GSA regional office in Kansas City serves four states, and the Cedar Rapids courthouse project long has been on the regional list to be built after a courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

However, a courthouse project in Jefferson City, Mo., now has leaped ahead of the Cedar Rapids courthouse project among projects in the Kansas City region.

The Cedar Rapids project has secured several million dollars for design and site preparation. Additionally, there are some pretty pictures of what the new courthouse will look like. It is proposed to extend from the Cedar River to Second Street SE between Seventh and Eighth avenues SE and to face toward downtown.