Two grassroots groups in Cedar Rapids were “really invested and passionate” about the community and making progress in the downtown area, says Felicia Wyrick, a ConnectCR Board Member. Separately, each group had spent years, resources, and energy on their projects. What was going to really accelerate their plans? Becoming one.
It was suggested in a meeting that the Friends of Cedar Lake and the Southside Investment Board’s “Sleeping Giant” group combine, “because they’re bookends of downtown Cedar Rapids and the trail system. It would make it one community ask,” says Steve Sovern, a fellow ConnectCR Board Member. It wasn’t long after the idea was presented that a board was formed and became ConnectCR.
The City of Cedar Rapids quickly established itself as a partner and contributed $5 million. That kind of support from any city, any state is often unheard of for many grassroots groups, but Wyrick says, “They saw the enthusiasm from supporters of both the lake and bridge, and they couldn’t ignore it.” The capital campaign officially launched in the fall of 2018 to raise awareness and funds for building a new bridge, replacing the rundown railroad bridge, and revitalizing Cedar Lake.
Then The Hall-Perrine Foundation committed another $5 million, “and we were off and running,” says Sovern. With substantial donations and recognized community contributors on the board, ConnectCR officially began engaging with an already excited community. “So many people see the benefit of this project for the lake, the bridge, and the community as a whole,” says Julie Kraft, ConnectCR Director of Organizational Development.
Another supporter of ConnectCR? Alliant Energy. When Alliant owned Cedar Lake, any projects on the lake would require permission from the company. Then Alliant turned ownership over to the City of Cedar Rapids for $1.00, and “that’s when the real progress began,” says Wyrick. It was an incredible milestone for ConnectCR, and Alliant showed additional support by donating $1 million to the project. (Read more about the new bridge called the Alliant Energy LightLine.)
To see the progress that’s been made, knowing the upcoming phases, and having the continued enthusiasm from the community is “incredibly rewarding,” says Sovern. So many components will be reflective of the city’s heritage and history, while also setting the stage for new memories. People will be able to walk out over the lake, use the LightLine, “bike down to the Sag to see the most beautiful sunsets on the Cedar Rapids skyline,” says Wyrick. For her, the most exciting part is “seeing all of the amenities that are included in our master plan come to life.”