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City Council Will Agree to Sell Riverside Park to Penford for Plant Expansion

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Eleven months after Penford Products Co. first publicly said it wanted to buy the city's 11-acre Riverside Park next door to position the company for expansion, the City Council is ready to vote on an agreement to sell the park.

Mayor Ron Corbett on Friday said a majority of the City Council will vote on Tuesday to approve the development agreement six months in the making with Penford, which employs 250 people in its grain-processing plant that has been an industrial presence along Cedar Rapids' riverfront across from downtown for more than a century.

"It is out of the ordinary to sell park land, and that's why we took the necessary time to get this deal right," Corbett said. "We're in difficult economic times right now, and we have a company that wants to expand, and we should be assisting them and supporting them in any way we can."

Tim Kortemeyer, president and general manager at Penford, on Friday said Penford has approved the development agreement with the city that will let it purchase Riverside Park, and he said he will be at Tuesday's council meeting to comment on it.

"We're very satisfied with how it is written and we don't have any objection to it," Kortemeyer said.

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

In the proposed development agreement, Penford agrees to pay $1.67 million for the park, an amount based on a city appraisal and an amount Penford said in April that it was willing to pay.

The city will use part of the money from any sale to replace a skate park, ball diamond and playground now at Riverside Park at a yet-to-be-determined alternative park site, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said.

Back in May, the City Council voted to have Pomeranz enter into negotiations with Penford and council members then armed Pomeranz with a list of item it wanted him to discuss with the company as part of any park sale.

Pomeranz said city and company officials met about five times in the negotiations, and he said nearly every one of the expectations set out by council members is part of the proposed development agreement.

In the proposed agreement, according to the city manager, Penford agrees:

to let the city build a portion on a new flood protection system on Penford property between the Cedar River and the plant, and also to permit the city to construct a trail on its property along the river as well.

to allow the construction of a new access road to run parallel to the 12th Avenue bridge on the edge of Riverside Park as requested by the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library to provide a service drive to the museum and library.

to install new emission-control scrubber equipment on the existing plant to address air quality issues.

to create a reporting and response policy to address complaints about plant odor.

to add a number of trees and shrubs and to build a decorative concrete wall along the 12th Avenue bridge to serve as a buffer from the plant and any expansion of it.

to make a reasonable effort to use local contractors for contract work at the plant.

The development agreement calls on Penford to make "a minimum investment" of $10 million, though Kortemeyer on Friday said the company anticipates a much larger capital investment in any expansion.

The park property will not transfer to Penford until the company needs to take ownership of the park to expand, Pomeranz said.

The city manager said the only significant item that Penford was unwilling to put into the written development agreement was a request that the company spruce up the existing plant. That doesn't mean the company won't make aesthetic improvements, they just didn't want such a requirement in an agreement centered on an expansion of the plant, Pomeranz said.

"From the perspective of the expectations of the City Council, we think those were met, very close to 100 percent," Pomeranz said. "... Ultimately, this allows an existing business in Cedar Rapids to expand. It creates tax base and it creates jobs. ... It all comes together in a positive fashion for the community."

One of the key critics of Penford's request to purchase Riverside Park was the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, which sits on the other side of the 12th Avenue bridge from Riverside Park and Penford.

Gail Naughton, president/CEO of the library and museum, on Friday said the museum is pleased that the proposed city-Penford agreement allows for the construction of a new service road for the museum and provides for a landscaping barrier between the plant and the museum and neighborhood.

"We've been appreciative of the effort that has been extended us to work with the museum on issues raised by the sale of the park to Penford," Naughton said. "Penford has been a good neighbor, and we understand the agreement and that the expansion will be taking place."

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