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  • Mon July 07 2008
  • Posted Jul 7, 2008
By TIM JAMISON, Courier Staff Writer WATERLOO --- Record flooding has heaped delays on the city's already-overdue Vision Iowa projects. As the Cedar River began swelling to record depths in early June, Peterson Contractors Inc. was forced to pull its equipment out of the flood's way and halt work on a $5.5 million river wall and dam rehabilitation project being constructed through a state Vision Iowa grant. Doug Schindel, project manager for Earth Tech, said it is unlikely the work started in May 2007 will be finished by the original Dec. 31, 2008, completion date. "We'll have to back off that schedule," Schindel said. "We had some high water last fall, ice over the winter and, at the end of April, we had a pretty good (flood) event. "They haven't really had a chance to work in the spring or summer much at all," he said of PCI. "Even now, it's a little bit high for them to start working in the river." Work on the nearly completed riverfront trail segment from East Sixth to East 18th Street appeared to be spared from the brunt of the floods, Schindel said. "Mainly it had to do with erosion issues," he said. "Overall the project held up pretty well, but we will need to come back with some repairs." The city was awarded a $7.3 million Vision Iowa grant in January 2003 to help pay for a $20 million downtown face-lift, which included putting a rubber bladder on the dam between Park Avenue and Fourth Street; constructing a trail loop along the downtown riverside; and building a riverfront plaza and amphitheater near the Center for the Arts. A lawsuit filed against the Vision Iowa Board by some Page County residents --- unrelated to the Waterloo projects --- initially delayed the release of grant funds. And, while Mother Nature is causing further delays, Mayor Tim Hurley is not willing to say the project is cursed. "It is indeed frustrating, but there are things we can control and things we cannot," Hurley said. "We're focusing on what we can control while maintaining the vision of the positives this project will provide for the entire community." Another downtown project, the $4.5 million Riverloop Expo area under construction between West Third, Commercial and Bluff streets and Park Avenue, near the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center, weathered the storm well. "The only thing the flooding really did for that is slow it down for about 10 days," said City Engineer Eric Thorson. "They couldn't work when it was under water." The Expo area and a related public market in the former TruGreen ChemLawn building are not part of the Vision Iowa grant projects and are being financed through the Iowa Community Attraction and Tourism program and gaming revenue from the Isle Casino & Hotel. The plaza is part of an overall plan for an "entertainment/sports zone" covering the area from the Cedar River to U.S. Highway 218 between Park and Mullan avenues. Long-term development plans call for the city to buy up many properties that come available in that zone to be used for additional public improvements or compatible business growth. But many businesses in that area suffered heavy damage when water backed up behind the flood levee. "The flooding definitely served as a wake-up call, but we are not ready to scrap any plans," Hurley said. "I firmly believe that the mitigation measures we eventually will put in place will provide sufficient protection to any investment in the area, whether public or private." Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson said the city is stepping up discussion about the entertainment/sports zone property acquisition in light of the flooding. "We've been contacted by a couple of (property owners) who had damage," Anderson said. "They know that long-term we don't see them being there in that area and they're questioning whether we can step up the process." While the city has been budgeting capital improvement dollars for property acquisition in that area each year, it has not budgeted nearly enough to complete a large number of buyouts on its own. The city is checking into whether any federal hazard mitigation funding is available to be used for those purchases. Meanwhile, Hurley is hoping the downtown flooding hasn't "fractured" growing confidence from investors. City officials had been hoping the public investment in the downtown area --- the Vision Iowa projects, the recently opened Phelps Youth Pavilion and a Riverloop Expo area --- will generate more downtown visitors and spur additional private investment in the central business district. A number of new retail businesses, especially in the East Fourth Street corridor, and renewed interest in downtown housing were providing the pulse city and downtown leaders had hoped. "Before this flood slammed us, we were all thinking very positive downtown," Hurley said. "We were on the upside, but weren't past the critical mass. "Waterloo was moving in the right direction before the flood, and we haven't changed our focus. Businesses are re-opening and we're cleaning up. "It will be paramount for the city to work with all sectors of the local economy to reinvigorate confidence in the long-term growth of the downtown district," he added. "With confidence will come new investment and new excitement about the possibilities downtown presents. " Contact Tim Jamison at (319) 291-1577 or tim.jamison@wcfcourier.com.

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