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Archive for the ‘Scott Olson’ Category

An idea and an idea guy — disliked in some quarters for some time — have proven right in the end

In Scott Olson on April 12, 2009 at 8:20 am

Scott Olson’s idea worked beautifully.

Today, some two years after Olson broached it, the idea has three vital helping services entities — Green Square Meals, the Ecumenical Community Center and the Witwer Senior Center Meals Program – in a new home in what had been a hard-to-lease space at 601-605 Second Ave. SE.

For Olson’s idea and initiative, the three groups now have invented an award to thank him. The three groups call it the Pillar of the Community Achievement Award.

The idea was not easy to turn into reality.

Firstly, it was hated by many associated with the meals program. Olson was even disliked for the idea in some quarters.

It was hated because it was such a good idea. It was so good that it allowed a majority of the City Council to conclude two years ago that the council could insist that the beloved Green Square Meals program move from the city’s dilapidated building in the downtown Greene Square Park. The building was used for nothing for the couple hours on weekdays for the meals program, it had fallen into disrepair and the city wanted to demolish it.

Even so, the council – it was a 5-4 vote for the meals program to move – easily could have voted for the meals program to stay but for Olson’s idea.

He proposed that the meals program move nearby to the 601-605 Second Ave. SE space where it could still easily serve a homeless and low-income population in the downtown. And the deal was similar to what it had enjoyed in the city. A $1-a-year lease.

In truth, it took another year for Green Square Meals – a devoted band of volunteers who had been a hot, evening meal from the park building for years – to settle on the fact that the Second Avenue site would be the program’s new home.

In March 2008, Olson announced that renovation of the building was readying to begin.

In June, though, the flood came and set all the plans aside. Olson’s own Skogman Realty office on the first floor of the downtown Higley Building was swamped with water.

It took until this January for the project to get moving again. By this time, the project had a bigger scope. The Witwer Senior Center, which was flooded out of its downtown home, would be moving its noontime meals program into the Second Avenue site. The kitchen would be bigger and Witwer would contribute to some of cost of outfitting the bigger, nicer kitchen.

It’s all been up and running now for a little more than a month. Myrt Bowers last week said her program – its long-range plan is still to relocate in a few to several years in a proposed, new community center – and Green Square Meals now ’ program now are serving meals to the same number of people who have been coming to the programs prior to the flood.

Olson last week provided a tour of the new digs, both the 605 Second Ave. SE space where the meals programs operate to the 601 Second Ave. SE space, which is connected by an interior hallway. The latter address is where the Ecumenical Community Center has its lineup of offices – from the Helping Hands Ministry to Churches United to Narcotics Anonymous to the Foman Infant Nutrition Unit.

Olson acknowledged that there were at least two reasons that his idea for merging helping-services entities in the same place had met with some skepticism.

The first was that Green Square Meals understandably wanted to stay in the city’s park building, which had become the program’s home.

“It was very emotional,” Olson says. “Green Square Meals looked at their options.”

Secondly, though, was the complication that Olson’s role as Ecumenical Center board member, Realtor and property owner brought into the mix.

As he explained last week, Olson and a group of nine other partners have invested in a group of buildings in the city in recent years with an idea of renovating them into a different use. The WaterTower Place condominiums is one such example.

This group of 10 investors, he said, owned 50 percent of the 601/605 Second Ave. SE building, which had had mixed success at finding tenants.

At the same time, Olson was a board member of the non-profit Ecumenical Community Center Foundation, which had a building at 1035 Third Ave. SE, a building that Cardiologists P.C. next door was interested in purchasing.

Cardiologists PC purchased the Third Avenue building, and the Ecumenical group used the money to purchase the Second Avenue building for its new home and the new home of Green Square Meals.

Olson last week said he collected no Realtor fees on the sale of the Second Avenue building, and he said he contributed far more in cash and time into the project than the $2,500 or so he might have made on the building’s sale and his 5 percent interest in it.

Olson said he can’t do anything more than that about the property transactions that when into the stew that allowed his idea, first hatched more than two years ago, to go to reality.

“I know people are pleased that the idea worked,” he says.

He notes that each of the three entities retain their individual identities but are sharing a space, sharing electric bills and sharing maintenance of the building.

“You never give up,” Olson continues. “You put people together, and you just keep working at it.”

The total renovation cost to make the Second Avenue building into a new home for three groups is $1.2 million, most of which Olson raised from private donors. The donations range from $5 to $100,000, he says, with much more in the way of cabinets to floor coverings to furniture donated from local companies.

Olson, who has been a mainstay on community boards for the Four Oaks family services agency and Geneva Towers for years, says his involvement is no different than the involvement of all who donated to the Second Avenue project and to all the volunteers who daily join in community efforts like Green Square Meals.

“You participate. It’s part of living in a town,” he says.


Mayor and five possible mayoral candidates have one thing in common: All support the local-option sales tax

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Gary Hinzman, Mayor Kay Halloran, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett, Scott Olson on March 1, 2009 at 11:00 pm

There have been local-option sales tax elections in years past in which elected officials and would-be elected officials have deferred to the voters and not expressed an opinion one way or another of the matter.

Not this time. At least not with Mayor Kay Halloran and the five people whose names to date are afloat as possible candidates for mayor in the November election.

Halloran is a strong supporter of the local-option sales tax, as are council members Monica Vernon and Brian Fagan, both who considered possible mayor candidates.

In favor, too, of the sales tax are three other possible mayor candidates: Ron Corbett, Gary Hinzman and Scott Olson.

In recent weeks, backers of Corbett conducted a private phone survey to check out what voters might be thinking about in this year’s upcoming mayoral race.

The Corbett backers asked those surveyed to pick from five possible candidates: Corbett, Fagan, Hinzman, Olson or Vernon.

Olson, a commercial Realtor who was narrowly defeated in his run for mayor in 2005, said last week that additional taxes like a local-option sales tax do have a “negative connotation.” But he said the unique circumstance of the flood recovery “overrides” that concern. “We have many people in need,” he said.

Olson said the local revenue raised by the sales tax will help those who own flood-damaged housing but, for one reason or another, don’t qualify for federal funds. He noted, too, that a citizen oversight committee will be in place to help direct how the sales tax money is spent.

Hinzman, director of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services and former Cedar Rapids police chief, said last week that he normally doesn’t jump at a tax increase.

“But it makes better sense than having no concept as to how Cedar Rapids bails itself out of this disaster,” Hinzman said. He said the sales tax will help the city “recover and heal as a community.”

“Without the local-option sales tax, it will be extremely difficult to get beyond the past,” he said.

Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST International Inc., said passing the local-option sales tax will “definitely improve” the city’s chances to secure increased federal and state funding.

“Given the scale of our disaster, we can’t pretend that we can recover and redevelop without these funding sources,” said Corbett, past president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and former speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives.

He said the local-option sales tax will provide a temporary “window of opportunity” that will give the city time to work hard to recruit companies to the city to add jobs and rebuild the city’s tax base.

New downtown home for Green Square Meals, Witwer meals program being readied for late February

In Floods, Scott Olson on January 23, 2009 at 11:58 am

After some starts and stops, work is well underway on converting a downtown building into the home of Green Square Meals and a temporary home for the Witwer Senior Center’s meals program.

The Ecumenical Center, which provides space for a group of helping services agencies and others, also is moving into the building at 601/605 Second Ave. SE.

Scott Olson, who is on the Ecumenical Center’s board of directors, reported on Friday that the center is readying to take up residence in the 601 side of the building in mid-February.

Olson said the all-volunteer Green Square Meals, which cooks and serves an evening meal Monday through Friday for the needy, is planning on serving its first meal in the new kitchen and dining area on the 605 side of the building on Feb. 23.

Meanwhile, Myrt Bowers, director of the Witwer Senior Center, on Friday said her operation is planning on cooking and serving its first lunch in the building on Saturday, Feb. 21.

The Witwer operation will prepare and serve lunch seven days a week from the site and also prepare lunches to deliver to homes in Linn County and at a meals site in Lisbon.

In addition, Bowers said she is making plans to secure funding so that the Witwer Senior Center can serve a daily breakfast at the site. It might take five to six months to secure the funds, she said.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Bowers said. “… I think we’re going to be able to fill a need, and I’m very excited about that.”

The Witwer Senior Center’s previous home in the Witwer Building downtown was damaged in the June flood and the center does not have plans to return there.

Bowers estimated the center’s meals operation could remain at the new spot at 605 Second Ave. SE for three to five years. The long-term plan is for the center to become an integral part of a new community and recreation center. That idea is one of the goals of  the community’s Fifteen in 5 initiative.

Like the senior center, Green Square Meals has been operating at a temporary site since the June flood. The program had operated out of the city’s Greene Square Park building for years, but the City Council in March of 2007 told the meals program to move so the city could demolish the building. The building, which took in a little water in the June flood, is empty and still standing.

Olson, a commercial Realtor, played a central role in arranging the sale of a building that formerly housed the Ecumenical Center’s offices to provide money to help purchase the 601/605 Second Ave. SE building, in which he had an ownership interest. Olson also has played a role with others in rounding up donations of materials and labor for the Second Avenue building’s renovation.

Green Square Meals will operate from the site for $1 a year.

Living legends might be among those in the hunt for Cedar Rapids mayor

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Gary Hinzman, Mayor Kay Halloran, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett, Scott Olson on January 19, 2009 at 7:30 pm

It’s not easy getting your name affixed to a public building, especially if you have not given oodles to build the thing or you’re still alive.

Even so, two individuals mentioned in the last week as possible candidates in this year’s Cedar Rapids mayoral race — Ron Corbett and Gary Hinzman — both have managed to get their names on public buildings.

Corbett’s name is on the Corbett-Miller residential cottage at the Iowa Boy’s Training School at Eldora.

And Hinzman’s name is on the Gerald R. Hinzman Center, a residential correctional facility on the southwest Cedar Rapids campus of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services. Hinzman has been executive director of the department since 1989.

Corbett’s placement of his name on a building came in 2000, the year after he left the Iowa Legislature as Speaker of the House to become president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. He left the Chamber in 2005 to become a vice president at CRST Inc., a Cedar Rapids trucking firm.

Corbett, as House speaker, shares space on the Training School cottage with Tom Miller, the Iowa Attorney General. Both were credited with working “to develop a spectrum of services for troubled juveniles,” according to the legislative action placing the Corbett and Miller names on the Eldora cottage.

Hinzman, a former Cedar Rapids police chief, joined the Department of Correctional Services 20 years ago.

In that time, he moved the department’s operation from a neighborhood setting to a campus in an industrial area on the edge of town. From there, the campus and its services have expanded. His department’s board decided to affix his name on one of the new buildings that has gone up on the campus over the years.

Three other names also have been circulated now as mayor possibilities. They are current council members Brian Fagan, an attorney, and Monica Vernon, a business owner, and former mayoral candidate Scott Olson, a local Realtor.

Mayor Kay Halloran said she won’t comment on a reelection bid until after the Iowa Legislature is done with its work, which usually comes in April.

Who are you for? Anonymous phone survey has 5 on list for mayor: Corbett, Fagan, Hinzman, Olson and Vernon

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Gary Hinzman, Mayor Kay Halloran, Monica Vernon, Paul Pate, Ron Corbett, Scott Olson on January 12, 2009 at 4:40 pm

An anonymous phone survey conducted in recent days in Cedar Rapids has been asking a scientific sampling of residents some questions about city government. The survey ends with a bottom line: Who do you want for mayor, Corbett, Fagan, Hinzman, Olson or Vernon?

Yes, this is a municipal election year, and six of the nine Cedar Rapids City Council seats are on the ballot, including the mayoral seat currently held by Kay Halloran.

The phone survey did not include Halloran’s name among the list of five it was seeking to find out information about, and she has not said if she will seek reelection.

The first question you need to ask is this: Do you know the first names of the five in the survey and why they are on the list?

Actually, all five are well known and accomplished.

Corbett is Ron Corbett, who has been past speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives and, more recently, president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce from 1999 until mid-2005. He left the chamber to take a vice-president post at CRST International.

Fagan is Brian Fagan, a Cedar Rapids attorney, at-large City Council member elected in 2005 and the council’s mayor pro tem.

Hinzman is Gary Hinzman, executive director of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services and former Cedar Rapids police chief.

Olson is Scott Olson, a commercial Realtor and architect, who lost a run for the mayor’s job in 2005 in a close contest with Halloran.

Vernon is Monica Vernon, a local business owner and the District 2 council member who won election in 2007.

Vernon is president of Vernon Research Inc., a company that conducts phone surveys. However, Vernon said on Monday that neither she nor her firm is conducting the survey. Others said the survey calls were coming from an area code outside of Eastern Iowa.

Some reported Paul Pate, mayor from 2002 through 2005, was on the list, but others reported last evening he was not.