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Cedar Rapids Council Agrees to Sell Riverside Park

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Penford Products Co. has gotten its wish.

The City Council, on an 8-0 vote, on Tuesday approved a development agreement with the longtime Cedar Rapids riverfront industry that will allow the company to buy the city's Riverside Park next to it for future expansion.

The development agreement will require Penford, which employs 250 people and processes corn into starch products and ethanol, to pay $1.67 million for the neighborhood park.

In exchange, Penford has agreed to a list of conditions from the City Council, which includes providing access for a future flood protection wall and a trail between the plant and the Cedar River and allowing the city to build an access road on the east side of what is now Riverside Park to serve as a service road for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

The museum and library, which sits on the other side of the 12th Avenue bridge from Riverside Park and Penford, had spoken out earlier this year against Penford's park-purchase plan, in large part, because it thought it would lose a second access to its facility.

Gail Naughton, president/CEO of the museum and library, on Tuesday thanked Penford and the City Council for listening to and addressing the concerns.

Naughton told the council that Penford had been a good neighbor to the museum and library and she said the Czech Village neighborhood, where the museum and library is located, and New Bohemia across the river developed because of jobs that the Penford plant and a former packing plant provided to the neighborhood.

In saying she backed the Penford-City Hall development agreement, Naughton said, "We look forward to growth and change and development in our area."

City Council members Justin Shields, Chuck Swore and Don Karr said Penford has provided good jobs in the city for years and deserved support in its effort to expand and add more jobs.

Shields called the matter "a no-brainer." Swore said he didn't know how Penford could do more. He said they agreed to try to expand and add jobs, and agreed to list of requests from the City Council as well.

Council member Ann Poe, who earlier had reservations about the Penford plan, said she was happy that Penford addressed the council concerns about an access road to the museum and about air quality at the plant.

Poe said she still wanted to know where the amenities in Riverside Park a skate park, ball diamond and playground might be recreated, and Christine Butterfield, the city's community development director, said she suspected that the features would be placed somewhere in the 230 acres of new park greenway that has been created from buyouts and demolitions of flood-damaged properties.

Council member Kris Gulick said he worried that the development agreement might not give the city the ability to reject a Penford expansion plan if one eventually surfaces and the council doesn't like it.

In the development agreement with Penford, the city retains ownership and use of the park until such time as Penford has an actual expansion proposal. The city first must approve a site plan for any expansion before it must hand over ownership of the park, and council member Monica Vernon said she felt the council could reject a Penford plan if the council doesn't like it at that point.

Tim Kortemeyer, president and general manager at Penford, did not speak at Tuesday's council meeting, but last week he said Penford earlier had approved the development agreement with the city.

Kortemeyer said the company continues to look for a partner to help with a plant expansion, which he said could be a $30-million-to-$100-million venture that adds 25 to 50 more jobs at the plant.

The development agreement approved on Tuesday requires the company to make a minimum investment of $10 million as part of any park purchase. The agreement doesn't include any job-creation requirement.

The agreement will remain in place until 2022 to see if Penford comes up with an actual expansion plan and needs the park land. Once Penford takes possession it has three years to invest and expand, according to the agreement.

Penford first announced its request to purchase Riverside Park some 11 months ago. In May, the council asked City Manager Jeff Pomeranz to begin negotiations with the company.

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