With the fifth anniversary of the historic flood of 2008 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, quickly approaching, the city has focused on completing flood recovery and reconstruction projects. And this past weekend, they faced another flood. The river crested on Sunday, June 2, at an elevation of 718.32 feet—much lower than the 2008 flood elevation of 732.12, but worrisome all the same.
The Cedar River will hopefully stay at lower levels for the remainder of the season, but this precarious situation underscores tensions that characterize the "new normal." Natural disasters are on the rise, and, following the Great Recession, cash-strapped communities struggle to pay for recovery.
But the story of Cedar Rapids doesn't end there. The city also offers insights on how to navigate the new normal.
The recovery process starts with a plan. Yet moving strategic plans to implementable projects is one of the greatest challenges in our industry. With city budgets spread thinner than ever, we need creative strategies to make it happen. (See Jon Trementozzi's recent post, "New Strategies for Funding the Public Realm").
After we led a long-term recovery plan for Cedar Rapids in 2008, we collaborated with their Parks and Recreation Department to guide implementation of the first priority project, the Cedar Rapids Riverfront Amphitheater and Festival Ground. This effort included developing a riverfront master plan and design and documentation of the project for bidding and construction.
Between these two phases we undertook a series of tasks and services not typical to the planning and design process: fundraising. We helped identify priority implementation projects, determined funding sources, wrote grants, prepared supporting documents, and presented to government agencies, foundations, private businesses, and individuals to raise funds.
Donor document prepared by the Sasaki team
Working with the Parks and Rec Department, we secured grants from three sources, each targeting specific aspects of the park. Iowa's RECAT (River Enhancement Community Attraction and Tourism) Program funds active riverfront programming, I-JOBS (Iowa Jobs) Disaster Recovery and Prevention Program funds infrastructure and flood-recovery investments, and Iowa's REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection) Program supports ecological restoration projects.
We then worked with the city to secure matching funds from public and private sources. In total, our efforts secured $6.8 million—just enough to fund the project.
Cedar Rapids Riverfront Amphitheater in construction
The amphitheater is scheduled to open this fall. The people of Cedar Rapids will convene along terraced seat-walls, taking in the view of the new raised stage and architectural canopy against the backdrop of the river.
The amphitheater is the first segment of flood protection on the city's west side, designed as a piece of topography that will eventually connect to the levee. While rebuilding in Cedar Rapids will continue for years, this project is an important step in reconciling the city with the Cedar River: a magnificent, unpredictable companion that the community will now be able to enjoy in good weather—and withstand in foul.