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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.

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McGrane leans on council pulpit to talk about life as flood victim: offers new pieces of advice

In City Hall, Floods, Jerry McGrane on August 22, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Council member Jerry McGrane took a minute at this week’s council meeting to update the council and the public about his own life as a flood victim and his own interactions with constituents and others who are flood victims, too.

McGrane is willing to say what some might not be willing to say.

McGrane, for instance, encouraged those still rattled by the upheaval caused by the June flood to take advantage of both financial counseling and mental health counseling.

“I’ve done both, and I think I’m gaining on the mental health part,” McGrane said.

“I really would like people to do that,” he continued. “It’s going to be a tough year. They (the counselors) know what they’re doing. It sure helps to go talk to them.”

McGrane’s house in the Oak Hill Neighborhood is at 1018 Second St. SE, and it faces the Cedar River across the city’s expansive Park & Ride lot. It got hammered pretty good.

McGrane this week also cautioned flood victims — in particular, the few thousand outside the 100-year flood plain who also saw extensive flood damage — to be careful about selling their houses for 10 to 20 cents on the dollar to the first person who shows up.

“Take time when it comes to selling your homes,” he said. “There are a lot of speculators out there. … It’s a sad deal to see people who are selling their houses for little or nothing.”

Finally, McGrane called on the city to figure out a way to mow lawns in the flood areas rather than pushing flood victims to get back into the neighborhoods and do the work themselves. McGrane noted that, like many others, he lost his mower as well as the shed in which the mower was in during the flood.

He suggested that the city hire youngsters to do the work.

Neighbors, get organized; City Hall brings in an expert so flood-hit neighborhoods don’t have to turn to ghost towns

In City Hall, Floods, Jerry McGrane, Neighborhoods, Pat Shey on August 16, 2008 at 9:33 pm

City Council member Jerry McGrane parlayed his visibility as president of the Oak Hill/Jackson Neighborhood Association into a successful run for the District 3 council seat in November 2005.

McGrane on Friday reported that his years of work with his neighborhood organization were sometimes frustrating ones, and he said a lack of support and resources from City Hall over the years was part of the reason the organization often floundered.

“It got harder and harder to work with city government,” McGrane told his council colleagues. “Funding was always a problem. … Without resources, people start fading away.”

In truth, citizen participation in neighborhood associations in Cedar Rapids has never been all that active, except in the Wellington Heights Neighborhood, which began what there has been of a neighborhood association movement here in the early 1990s.

It is true, too, that barely existent or dormant neighborhood groups can catch fire when a hot-button issue arrives to get neighbors off the couch.

June’s historic flood destroyed the couch.

With that in mind, City Hall has brought a Chicago-based, non-profit group to Cedar Rapids to help the city’s flood-wrecked neighborhoods find a voice and create an action plan.

Tim Duszynski, director of national programs for the Institute of Cultural Affairs, says the issue for the neighborhoods is whether they will cease to be a neighborhood anymore, whether they will become ghost towns or whether they will stay and build.

The Time Check Neighborhood is one of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods, and its Northwest Neighbors group has been a struggling one. Frank King, who headed the group a few years ago, had agreed to lead it again prior to the June flood. A flood victim himself, he’s been a visible presence in the days and weeks since the flood even as he has been working to renovate his own house.

In the two months since the flood, no one has been more visible or vocal than Oak Hill/Jackson’s president, Mike Richards, also a flood victim. Richards also is a member of the New Bohemia group, an active entity in the neighborhood which has been working to establish an arts and cultural district along the now-flood-hit Third Street SE. Richards lives on the second floor of a storefront on Third Street SE.

Across the Cedar River from New Bohemia is the heavily damaged Czech Village commercial district, which features one of the city’s biggest attractions, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. The business owners are quite mobilized.

Fourthly, the Rompot neighborhood in far southeast Cedar Rapids also was hit and hurt by the flood.

Council member Pat Shey, who is an attorney and has been a banker, has been promoting the creation of a non-profit Neighborhood Finance Corp. in Cedar Rapids similar to one in Des Moines. The idea is for the corporation to be a conduit of funds to homeowners who decide to stay in a neighborhood and make it better. What the city gets over time is a larger tax base while the neighborhood gets improved, more attractive housing and a nicer, safer place to live.

Sandi Fowler, the city’s neighborhood liaison and assistant to the city manager, noted that some neighborhoods in Des Moines have not received money because they did not have sufficient enough of a neighborhood organization to oversee the spending.

“To qualify, a neighborhood had to get organized,” she said.

Shey noted that the city of Cedar Rapids really doesn’t have that many neighborhood associations.

Des Moines, he said, had six. Now, he added, it has 54.

They needed to be organized to get access the neighborhood finance corporation there, Shey said.

City Council a long way away from replacing city parking employees with a private outfit

In Brian Fagan, Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey, Tom Podzimek on June 5, 2008 at 3:26 am

Have you seen the 1993 movie, “Dave?” In it, Dave Kovic, played by actor Kevin Kline, turns out to be an exact look-a-like of the president of the United States. The conservative president suffers a stroke; Kovic takes over the job; and, in one scene, he decides to he needs to find some money in the federal budget for a homeless shelter. With the national press corps in the room, Kovic turns to the secretary of commerce for some help, and the reluctant secretary looks at the cameras pointing at him and agrees he can give up some of his department’s funds for the cause.

It was a little like that at last night’s City Council meeting when council member Brian Fagan at one point said he was sick of talking about problems with downtown parking and wasn’t sure he needed to hear any more proof that they existed.

He said he was ready to take on the question of the moment, should the council turn to a private manager to run the city’s parking operation instead of using city employees?

Then Fagan’s head turned to the left, facing the crowd, which included a group of a dozen or so city employees who would lose their jobs in a privatization move. He saw them looking back at him. “Of course, I don’t want to hone in on that” is what it sounded like he said. He then made reference to the fact that many of employees had 20 years of service to the city.

What is it that the city can do, he asked, to improve its downtown parking services with the employees? But he said, too, that he wanted to see the more-detailed report about Republic Parking System, the Chattanooga, Tenn., company that the City Council has been asked by a city committee to take a look at.

Last night’s hour-long council debate on public versus private was as spirited and delightful to watch as any council debate you can find.

When quiet finally came, it was clear any plan to turn the city’s downtown parking operation over to a private manager and send about a dozen long-time city employees packing isn’t anywhere near happening.

No one on the City Council last night seemed eager to hire a private management company to run the city’s parking operation, although Doug Neumann, president/CEO of the Downtown District, said many cities swear by the move to privatization as a way to get improved service, more expertise, newer technology, customer amenities and better-maintained parking facilities.

Confronted by council member Monica Vernon at one point about just what the problem was, Neumann pointed to a recent downtown parking study and years of displeasure from downtown property owners over the ways in which the city’s downtown parking operation hurts the downtown.

Neumann, though, made it clear that the Downtown District was stopping short of pushing for privatization of the parking system. The downtown property owners would settle for a plan in which the city figured out a way to provide better service and more expertise on its own, he said.

Getting the current city operation to become something more than it has been is one thing several council members, including Fagan, Tom Podzimek, Justin Shields and Vernon, seemed to want to know about.

Todd Taylor, a state representative in House District 34 in Cedar Rapids and a staff representative for AFSCME, spoke to the council last night on behalf of the city parking employees who stood to lose their jobs if the council decided to privatize the operation.

Taylor called on the council to ask the employees – whose average years of service to the city was 17, he said – to help come up with ideas to make the current parking operation better.

Council members Shields, president of Hawkeye Labor Council, Jerry McGrane and Chuck Wieneke said they had no interest in eliminating the jobs of employees simply because many of them now were at the top of their pay grades and had good city benefits.

Shields said this City Council talks on and on about its vision for a better city, adding that replacing good-paying jobs with low-paying ones wasn’t part of the vision.

McGrane said cutting these jobs would send a bad signal to the rest of the city’s loyal employees.

Wieneke, who has been an executive with Iowa Workforce Development, questioned if Republic Parking System really could limit annual turnover to 25 percent of their employees when they were paying low wages.

Last night’s debate featured some testy if civil exchanges between Vernon and Fagan and Fagan and Shields.

After Vernon said she had not heard a clear statement of what the parking problem was, Fagan pointed to a 2005 study that all council members were given to read in recent months. Fagan said the problems were well-known, he was sick of talking about them and he said reading studies and listening over and over to downtown property owners was part of being a council member.

Shields, sitting next to Fagan with his face just a couple feet away, said how come nothing had come of the 2005 parking study if it was so important.

Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, said Republic Parking System could save the city an estimated $117,646 a year in personnel expenses.

Council member Pat Shey said that wasn’t much money unless someone could make a “compelling” case for how a private manager could significantly improve service.

Shey agreed that parking in the downtown is a crucial matter for the City Council to figure out, and the Downtown District’s Neumann said it was crucial if the downtown was to become all it could as a business park, entertainment center and residential center.

Neumann, for instance, talked about the need for “capacity management” so all the parking spots in a parkade are being used to their maximum. He pointed to instances in which downtown employers asked for parking spaces in a particular parkade,  were told none were available and yet 100 spaces typically sit empty in the same parkade in any given day.

Fagan talked about the phone calls he and other council members have gotten when motorists have had to sit for an hour or more in a parkade waiting a turn to pay a cashier and get out.

Shields wondered why the private parking company was being championed as having so many years of experience in parking. How many years has the city run its own parking operation? Shields asked. How is it, he asked, that the city, after all those years, doesn’t know anything about the business?

Vernon admitted that she’s intrigued about some of the premium amenities that private-sector parking companies offer to parkers. For instance, customers can have the company arrange to have their oil changed during the day while the customers are off at work.

Vernon, though, wondered how many customers really pay an extra fee and use the service.

City Manager Jim Prosser said it could be more complicated for the city to try to offer a similar service because the city might be criticized for picking one vendor over another. However, council member Tom Podzimek wondered why the city’s own fleet management operation couldn’t provide the service and make some extra money for the city.

When Prosser explained to Vernon that the parking company also would get a vendor to do the oil changes or minor vehicle repairs, Vernon responded, “So it’s something outsourced by the outsourcers.”

 

No “in-group” guy, District 3 McGrane’s hunch still key in Intermodal coming to warehouse site across from Osada

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Jerry McGrane on April 25, 2008 at 2:01 am

City staff last November surveyed and analyzed the downtown and near downtown and came up with 26 or so possible sites for the proposed multimillion-dollar Intermodal Transit Facility.

The new building, which had been planned to be built twice before on two different sites, now was an orphan looking for yet a new, third site.

By the end of that City Council meeting last November, District 3 council member Jerry McGrane had succeeded in adding yet another site to the long list of sites under consideration.

It was that additional site, not any of the sites on the original, lengthy list of 26 that the City Council this week selected as the one to build the new Intermodal Transit Facility.

“It was the only logical place to put it,” McGrane said Thursday after the council vote.

The chosen site is in the 900 block of Third Street SE across the street from the empty Osada apartment building, which was once a multistory warehouse and which a local developer is now readying to convert into the Bottleworks condominiums.

Now on the spot for the new Intermodal is Loftus Distributing Co. and some old warehouse buildings.

The owner of the property, which has an assessed value at $472,205, has been called a willing seller. The cost to demolish the existing buildings is estimated at $400,000.

McGrane credited Sam Shea, the city’s long-range planning coordinator, with taking an interest in the Loftus site and council member Brian Fagan for liking the fact that the site has an active rail line running by it.

The idea for an Intermodal is that it is supposed to be a hub for all kinds of transit. The facility will handle city buses, Neighborhood Transit Service vans, LIFTs buses and intercity buses, and as McGrane says, one day passenger trains from Iowa City and even Waterloo may stop there.

As for ideas, the idea that a bus depot needs to be in the heart of a downtown is no longer thought a good one. Depots are places for people to transfer to other buses, they are not destinations.

McGrane likes that the Loftus site is near the downtown, just up the street from the proposed Third Street SE arts and cultural district and also near the former Sinclair meatpacking site, which the city one day intends to see redeveloped.

McGrane, a retiree and recent past president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association, makes it known that he is not a part of what he says is the “in-group” on the City Council.

No matter, on this one, the idea he floated for the Intermodal site is the one that now has gained traction over two dozen others.

“I don’t go to pushing people to do things,” McGrane said. “Sometimes you plant the seed and see how far it grows. And it grew pretty good.”

Building the Intermodal will take some time. There are “federal hoops” to jump through, the city’s Shea says.

The plan is to convert the existing Ground Transportation Center bus depot into another use. The City Council and downtown leaders want First Street SE to be a pedestrian-friendly spot, and the current bus depot makes a stretch of the street another but that.

Plans for city’s new animal shelter progressing; CR serving Marion during Humane Society shelter probe

In City Hall, Humane Society, Jerry McGrane, Marion on April 22, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Police Sgt. Kent Choate, who oversees the city of Cedar Rapids’ animal control operation, reported this week that City Hall is moving ahead on its plans to move the city shelter from an old sewage treatment plant seven miles from downtown to a more centralized location.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options. There is no front-runner right now,” Choate said.

Among the options are empty big-box stores and other buildings closer to the center of the city. The seven-mile trip to the existing shelter on Old River Road SW just isn’t very efficient, Choate pointed out.

He noted, too, that the City Council has set aside $1.5 million in its capital improvement budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 for a new animal shelter.

Developments at the city’s animal shelter have taken a side seat in recent weeks to those at a second shelter in the metro area, the Cedar Valley Humane Society shelter.

In late March, the Marion Police Department raided the Humane Society shelter and seized billing records. The department continues to investigate possible overbilling.

In response, the Humane Society has appointed one of its volunteers to oversee the management of its shelter operation and has asked the Iowa Veterinary Board and the Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission to take a look at the shelter’s practices.

More recently, Jerry McGrane, Cedar Rapids council member, has wondered if the time might be right for the city to approach the Humane Society anew to see about joining forces on a combined animal shelter. Early efforts at that over the last year failed.

City Manager Jim Prosser told the council just last week that city staff was in the process of talking to the Humane Society again.

Choate this week, though, noted that the missions of the two groups are different. The city’s first mission is animal control, while the Humane Society’s first mission is not that, he said.

Choate noted that the city of Cedar Rapids is providing temporary animal control and shelter services to the city of Marion pending the Marion Police Department’s investigation into the Humane Society’s animal shelter.

Marion’s City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said it made sense for the city of Marion to turn to the city of Cedar Rapids for now until the probe of the Humane Society’s shelter is complete and its results known.

Pluckhahn did not rule out a future in which the city of Marion permanently contracted with the city of Cedar Rapids for animal control or shelter services. That’s not apt to happen, he suggested, if Cedar Rapids’ new shelter ended up being located far from the city of Marion as is the city’s current shelter. But if a spot in easy reach of Marion was chosen for the city’s new animal shelter site, that might allow Marion to take a look, Pluckhahn said.

The Humane Society’s shelter has been serving areas in Linn County outside of the city of Cedar Rapids.

Earlier this year, the Humane Society announced its own expansion plans.

 

Verdict still out on Cedar Valley Humane Society shelter; society’s board assures public again

In City Hall, Humane Society, Jerry McGrane, Marion on April 6, 2008 at 4:02 am

With word still out on a Marion police investigation into billing practices at the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s animal shelter, the society’s board of directors on Saturday announced steps to shore up its credibility.

The board said it will:

— Hire an independent consultant to review and provide advice on the operation of the society’s shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. east of Cedar Rapids.

— Ask Doug Fuller, a Humane Society board member, active shelter volunteer and retired police detective, to take a formal leadership role at the shelter.

— Invite the Iowa Veterinary Board to conduct random inspections to put to rest any allegation of animal mistreatment.

— Ask the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission to investigate the accusations of a former employee critical of the shelter and its work environment.

 In a written statement, Charles Abraham, the society’s board chairman and a veterinarian, said the four steps announced Saturday reflect many of the goals that have been a part of the shelter’s strategic plan.

 At the same time, Abraham denied allegations that either employees or animals at the shelter had been mistreated.

He noted that a national consulting firm, Shelter Planners of America, examined the Humane Society shelter’s performance in recent months and gave the shelter a rating of 7 out of 10. Most shelters score less well on such first reviews, he said.

Several members of the Humane Society’s board spoke to The Gazette on March 26, the day after the evening raid at the shelter by the Marion police. The Marion department, with the help of an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent, has said it is looking at the shelter’s past billing practices.

On March 26, board member Fuller said he had been working the phone to try to put shelter supporters’ minds at ease.

“And it’s difficult when you don’t have a clue exactly what you’re being accused of,” he said then.

In addition, board member Wilford Stone, a local attorney, said that there is always a possibility of accounting errors and “some things falling through the cracks.” But he said errors were not crimes.

A district court judge has sealed court records related to the search warrant in the Marion police raid of the shelter. Those warrants usually detail who is making allegations and what the allegations are.

The Gazette earlier reported that two former shelter employees, Joy Jager and Sarah Young, have filed lawsuits against the Humane Society in the last few months. Stone said the two are asking for compensation they say is owed them.

In January, the Iowa Employment Appeal Board denied Jager’s claim for jobless benefits. On a 2-1 vote, the board concluded, as an administrative law judge had earlier, that Jager resigned and so was not entitled to jobless benefits. Jager was ordered to return $1,676 in jobless benefits that had been paid her pending the appeal.

According to the appeal board’s ruling, Jager had alleged in her jobless claims appeal that the Humane Society had put sick cats up for adoption, had incomplete medical records and had operated on short staff.

The Cedar Valley Humane Society is a private, non-profit organization that depends on donations and volunteers. Donations and support for the shelter is up since allegations have surfaced against the shelter, board members say.

The Humane Society just six weeks ago launched a public campaign to raise money for a $1.5-million expansion of its shelter.

The shelter has handled about 3,000 animals a year, as does Cedar Rapids animal shelter off Old River Road SW. The Cedar Rapids shelter, which is run by public dollars with the help of volunteers, is looking to upgrade its facility independent of the Humane Society’s shelter.

Just last week, Cedar Rapids City Council member Jerry McGrane noted that both the Humane Society shelter and the city’s shelter were looking to invest in costly improvements, and he suggested the two shelters once again discuss the possibility of merging into one, better operation.

Such a discussion did not lead to anything in recent months, and in recent weeks, the Humane Society has said it isn’t interested and that the metro area is large enough for two facilities.

Third Street SE’s design back on the agenda; ‘New Bohemia’ offers to forget ‘pigeon roosts’

In City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Kris Gulick, New Bohemia on April 4, 2008 at 3:43 am

New Bohemia and a stretch of Third Street SE are headed back into the news.

In part, the reason is this: Two significant things happened to the 900 block of Third Street SE in two weeks.

Last week, the City Council backed an agreement with local developer Fred Timko to provide incentives that he says will allow him to spend about $6.5 million to convert the failed Osada low-income apartment complex into 58 residential units he’s calling the Bottleworks condominiums.

Then this week, the council signaled its intent to have the city build its new Intermodal Transit Facility – the city has $9 million in federal funds for it — in the 900 block of Third Street SE across from the Osada/Bottleworks building.

Council member Kris Gulick calls two multimillion-dollar moves like that “catalysts” worthy of having City Hall take a fresh look at the future of the entire stretch of Third Street SE — from the Osada/Bottleworks building to 14th Avenue SE and the gateway to the former Sinclair meatpacking site.

This is no easy task. In fact, 15 months ago, the council and city staff backed off the assignment in the midst of neighborhood dispute.

The Third Street SE dispute is coming back around, too, because the Oak Hill/Jackson Neighborhood Association and the New Bohemia area – the latter is an arts and cultural district that is geographically a part of the former – is readying to come to the City Council meeting next week to ask the council to get moving on revitalizing Third Street SE.

“Getting it on the agenda is step one,” Michael Richards, president of the neighborhood association and a New Bohemia board member, said Thursday when he heard of Gulick’s move to take up the Third Street SE matter anew.

“Making decisions is step two,” Richards added.

At the heart of the dispute is taste.

The New Bohemia group has embraced a modernistic design for street and streetscape on Third Street SE, which was professionally designed at city expense after several public input sessions.

However, some of the larger property owners along Third Street SE, including banker Ernie Buresh, have favored a street and streetscape design that has a Czech flavor similar to what has been put in place across the Cedar River in Czech Village.

There are even more worms in that can, though.

Complicating matters further is a broader issue of what Third Street SE’s function should be, Jim Prosser, city manager, and Dave Elgin, public works director, suggested in late 2006. At that time, both noted that Third Street SE is a minor arterial street designed to move traffic.

It turns out that both competing design concepts, New Bohemia’s and Buresh’s, are more pedestrian-friendly, less vehicle-friendly.

In 2006, too, the city had just bought the old packinghouse property with $2 million in city funds and $2 million in private grant money, and Elgin noted that there were not many other ways to get traffic to the site if the city succeeds in developing it.

“To be real blunt,” Prosser said then, “if you make this change, you’re eliminating an option you might wish you had kept in play when you look at (the Sinclair site).”

Again, that was 17 months ago.

This week, Gulick pointed out the Osada redevelopment project includes a provision for streetscape along Third Street SE in the Osada block.

As a result, “the timing is right” to revisit the design and streetscaping issues along the entire stretch of Third Street SE, he told his council colleagues this week.

In an interview Thursday, he said it would be a “mistake” to not have a consistency of design throughout the entire stretch of street.

“Ideally, you come to some middle ground that everybody might be satisfied with,” he said when asked if the thought the council could break the impasse.

Gulick said he finds it hard to imagine that the streetscaping now in place in downtown Cedar Rapids was embraced on all sides without some disagreements. But it was worked out, he said.

Both Gulick and council colleague Jerry McGrane said they want the council also to discuss the possibility of creating what Gulick called a “business improvement district” in the New Bohemia area not unlike the district in nearby downtown Cedar Rapids. In such an arrangement, property owners agree to an extra property-tax assessment with the money used in the district.

 The creation of such a district, though, would make it important that owners of property – “who have skin in the game” – have input into decisions in the district, Gulick said.

District 3 council member McGrane, who lives close by at 1018 Second St. SE, said he would like the council to sort the street design dispute out. He thought a few meetings and a council vote would do it.

The neighborhood’s and New Bohemia’s Richards also is advocating the creation of what he calls the New Bohemia Commercial District self-supporting municipal district like what Gulick and McGrane are talking about.

Richards envisions it reaching from the Cedar River to Fifth Street SE and Eighth Avenue SE to encompass the Sinclair site.

In a letter to his members, Richards said he, the neighborhood association and New Bohemia also want the council to get moving on the Third Street SE renovation, on which the city had intended to spend $3.4 million a couple years ago.

Richards also says New Bohemia is willing to compromise with Buresh on the street’s design. New Bohemia, he says, will give up on the proposed arches at the gateways to the Third Street SE area.

Buresh has called the arches “pigeon roosts,” Richards notes.

One metro area, two animal shelters, two costly plans to upgrade: Is it time to join forces?

In City Hall, Humane Society, Jerry McGrane, Marion on April 3, 2008 at 4:25 am

It hasn’t escaped the notice of Cedar Rapids council member Jerry McGrane that the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s animal shelter has been in the headlines of late.

The Humane Society’s shelter, which serves much of Linn County outside of Cedar Rapids, was raided by the Marion Police Department last week amid questions about the shelter’s billing practices. An agent of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is helping the Marion department analyze what it has seized.

All of this has come just as the Humane Society had recently announced plans for a $1.5-million expansion of its animal shelter at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd. just east of Cedar Rapids.

At Wednesday evening’s Cedar Rapids council meeting, McGrane suggested to the city staff that the Humane Society’s apparent public-relations pickle might make for the perfect time to again approach the Humane Society about joining forces with the city.

The city of Cedar Rapids, he noted, is looking at relocating its own animal shelter, which is located in a former solid waste treatment building at the far reaches of the city along Old River Road SW. The cost of relocation, which city staff has said might be to an existing building closer to the center of town, could be $1.5 million or more.

“This is an opportunity for the city’s animal control and the Cedar Valley Humane Society to join together,” McGrane suggested to his council colleagues and to the city staff. “I know they have problems now.”

Together, McGrane said, the two animal shelters could build “a pretty elite place” for animals that also would be nicer for employees and the volunteers that both shelters have come to depend on.

“I don’t see any reason for them building a big addition and us doing the same and for us to fighting each other for volunteers,” he said.

City manager Jim Prosser noted that city staff members had been investigating city options to relocate the city’s shelter, and Prosser said the plan had been to report to the council in upcoming weeks.

Prosser seemed to indicate that at McGrane’s request the city staff would add to its list of options the idea of approaching the Humane Society again about possible collaboration.

Such a discussion has occurred in months passed, but it ended in an impasse. The city had said that the price tag was too high for the city to help pay for the expansion of the Humane Society shelter and then to pay annual lease payments to use the place.

Both shelters handle about 3,000 animals a year.

In two interviews in recent weeks with Humane Society board members – first at the announcement of their expansion, and then in reaction to last week’s police raid – the board members expressed no interest in merging forces with the city shelter. Both shelters are needed, the board said.

The city’s Prosser, who has talked about a regional shelter, has said recently that most metropolitan areas of Cedar Rapids’ size often have more than one entity caring for animals.