Businesses Step-Up to Provide $1.55 Million in Funding for Cedar Rapids Amphitheater

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS – The Hall-Perrine Foundation here and three key Cedar Rapids businesses have stepped up to provide a total of $1.55 million in funding for the city's proposed Downtown Riverfront Amphitheater, funding that is crucial as the city attempts next week to secure a $2-million state grant for the project.

In announcing the $1-million Hall-Perrine award on Wednesday, Jack Evans, the foundation's president, said the amphitheater project fits squarely in the foundation's mission to improve "the quality of life" in the community. He said the amphitheater, in tandem with a new Convention Complex and new library and the renovation of the Paramount Theatre, will transform the downtown in a few short years.

"If you just sit back and let your mind wander a little bit, I think you can see a great vision developing," Evans told a gathering at the morning news conference.

The event was held at the city's police station, just to the north of which will be built the new riverfront amphitheater, an $8.7-million project that will be part flood-protection levee and part entertainment venue designed to handle crowds of 5,000 people.

Executives from AEGONUSA and Rockwell Collins, each of which is contributing $225,000 to the project, and one from CRST International, which is contributing $100,000, praised the amphitheater project and called it an investment that will help them retain and attract employees.

"It gives us that energy to move forward," said Lon Olejniczak, senior vice president at AEGON USA. "And because of that, this was a no-brainer (for us)."

The amphitheater project is leaping to the forefront of the community's agenda now as the city heads to Des Moines next week in an effort to secure a state River Enhancement Community and Tourism grant for $2.017 million to go along with a $1.075 million I-JOBS disaster grant the city already has received for the project.

Other funding for the project to date consists of $1 million from the city of Cedar Rapids as well as city-owned land valued at $1.47 million and $10,000 plus the donation of land valued at $425,000 by the Linn County Board of Supervisors.

The city hopes to raise a total of $2 million for the project – including the $1.55 million announced on Wednesday — from private and non-profit donations and citizen contributions.

At Wednesday's news conference, west-side council member Chuck Wieneke emphasized that the amphitheater is being designed and built to be the city's first piece of a new flood-protection system even as it will be an entertainment venue.

There has been much discussion locally about the Army Corps of Engineers' plans for the city, which don't provide flood protection for the west side of the river. The city has called the Corps' plan a first-step and has said it is committed to protecting both sides of the river. The amphitheater project, Wieneke said, is the first piece of the city's flood-protection system and "it's starting on the west side."

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, who took over the city post in late September, is head of the state I-JOBS board, and on Wednesday he said that his fellow board members earlier this year thought the amphitheater project had the "sizzle" they were looking for in projects to fund.

Pomeranz called the amphitheater "a real symbol of progress for the community," which will turn to "the reality of a new, better, greater Cedar Rapids" when construction on the project begins in the spring, he said.

Linn Supervisor Linda Langston recalled Wednesday how exciting it was earlier this year when a flood-hit Theatre Cedar Rapids reopened in the downtown, and she said the amphitheater would be further proof "of a community coming back."

"I think building the amphitheater along the river and allowing that property to develop will really begin to help us in a very material way understand what an asset the river is. ... It will be a huge, huge benefit to this community," Langston said.

The city has talked for a decade or more about building an outdoor riverfront amphitheater.

The state I-JOBS money for the project will pay for work, expected to start in the spring, to build a levee at the site. The other funds will be used to build the amphitheater into the levee in 2012.

The venue then should be open in 2013. It is expected to attract 52 events — including six to eight touring shows — and 57,300 patrons a year, the city has estimated.

The amphitheater is expected to be designed to handle crowds up to 5,000 people, Gail Loskill with the city's Parks and Recreation Department said Wednesday.
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