Cedar Falls River Recreation Challenge lands wanted $1.5M from Division of Commerce | Political Information

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CEDAR FALLS — The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Tuesday that the City of Cedar Falls has received final approval for a $1.5 million grant to fund future “visitor-friendly infrastructure along the Cedar River.”

This project, which went over budget late last year and likely needed these funds to move forward, is known to locals as the Cedar River Recreational Improvement Project.

It will include physical and aesthetic river and riverfront improvements from the upstream side of the Main Street Bridge to the downstream side of the West First Street Bridge.

The manager expects the 4,000-square-foot space on Main Street downtown to open before the Sturgis Falls Celebration begins on June 24.

“The Cedar River Recreational Project represents a major change not only for Cedar River but for the entire community,” Stephanie Houk Sheetz, director of urban development, said in a statement Thursday. “It will connect residents and visitors to the river, improve safety and accessibility for all, enhance life and opportunities in the water, and provide family-friendly activities. We are very happy to receive this grant to advance our project. ”

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Notably, improvements include multiple kayak playgrounds, fishing docks, habitat spawning pools and water access points, and riverfront improvements.

The city anticipates bidding for the project in late summer or early fall, with the year-long construction project potentially beginning in late 2022.

“Applying for the grant was a great collaboration from city employees, including the Cedar Falls Tourism and Visitor Bureau, along with our partners in the Cedar Falls Community Main Street and the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments,” Sheetz said. “It was truly a team effort as we work together to bring this amazing opportunity to our region.”

In late March, the city received provisional approval for up to $1.5 million from the Economic Development Administration’s $240 million American Rescue Plan Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Program.

The federal program is designed to “accelerate the recovery of communities that depend on the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation sectors,” according to a federal news release announcing the grant.

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COVID-19, rising construction costs caused the project estimate for the 315 Clay St. project to increase to $2.5 million, requiring more fundraising and pushing back a tentative groundbreaking to 2024.

“The Biden-Harris administration is dedicated to helping the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation sectors recover and rebuild from the pandemic,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “This EDA investment will improve visitor and recreational opportunities along the Cedar River, strengthen local business and create new jobs.”

In October, construction bids for the project were 180% above the engineer’s estimate of $3.7 million. The estimated total cost was $4.1 million.

The higher-than-expected bids prompted the city to enter a remodeling phase with Riverwise Engineering and apply for the federal grant.

The estimated total cost is now $5.25 million. Of this, $4.8 million is the construction estimate covered by the grant and will be matched with $3.3 million in state and local funds.

Local funding includes $1.5 million from a grant from the Black Hawk County Gaming Association.

In addition, the city had allocated $1 million from its emergency reserve. The remaining funds should come from $525,000 in general notes, which the city council just approved for sale, and $500,000 in private fundraising.

The federal ministry press release said the grantee estimates the project will create 129 jobs and generate $295,000 in private investment.

“This project was made possible by the regional planning effort led by the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments (INRCOG),” the press release said. “EDA funds INRCOG to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs.”

The cities of Cedar Falls and Waterloo are also working with INRCOG and Grow Cedar Valley to prepare a grant application for a much larger community project that they say would “transform” areas along the Cedar River.

The Destination Iowa Scholarship is made possible through the American Rescue Plan.

INRCOG Community Planner Isaiah Corbin said in an email Wednesday that city officials are still reviewing the plans and determining whether it’s feasible to proceed with the grant application given the program’s requirements.

For more information about the project, visit: https://www.cedarfalls.com/1372/Cedar-River-Recreational-Project.

This story has been updated with information released by the city on Thursday.

'Think Big': Destination Iowa grant offers potential to 'transform' Waterloo and Cedar Falls along the Cedar River

Executives anticipate their bid could be ready as soon as next month and range from $30 million to $50 million, although 60% of that would need to be matched by local sources.