Indian Creek Nature Center Backs Away From $200,000 to Lease Space for Billboard
By Rick Smith, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Indian Creek Nature Center will forego $200,000 to lease space on center-owned land for a digital billboard, in part, because it fears it could lose out if donors opposed to billboards don’t donate money for the center’s proposed new $4-million building, says Rich Patterson, the center’s longtime director.
Just last week, the Nature Center won the backing of the City Council on a 5-3 vote — after spirited debate — to rezone for commercial development a piece of center-owned land on Highway 100 east of First Avenue SE next to the Slumberland furniture store.
Patterson has said the center expects to sell six to eight acres of the 35-acre parcel of donated land for more than $2 million, and the center already has gotten an offer to lease a small spot of the property for a digital billboard for an upfront fee of about $200,000, Patterson has said.
However, Patterson on Thursday reported that some of the center’s own trustees and well as members of the public weighed in on their opposition to the billboard subsequent to last week’s City Council vote.
"We never knew the absolute hatred that some people have for billboards, particularly the electronic ones," Patterson said. "I don’t think any of us anticipated that."
Mayor Ron Corbett was among the three council members who spoke out strongly against the Nature Center’s plans to erect a digital billboard on Highway 100.
On the day of the council vote last week, the Nature Center learned that the Hall Perrine Foundation of Cedar Rapids had awarded the center a $1-million challenge grant, which requires the center to raise an additional $3 million in contributions in three years for the center’s proposed new building about a half-mile west of the existing one along Otis Road SE, Patterson reported.
Patterson said the center’s board came to the realization that its effort to raise the $3 million for the new building plus an additional $2 million for the center’s endowment to maintain the building over time could be complicated by the billboard controversy. As a result, the center’s board decided not to lease the land for a billboard.
The decision is a significant if partial retreat.
Patterson noted that the entity that buys the Nature Center’s property could decide to erect a billboard on the site. In addition, he did not rule out the possibility that the center might be able to charge more for the property because of the ability of the new owner to lease a spot on the property for a billboard.
However, he emphasized that the Nature Center will not lease any space for a billboard, which he added should give Mayor Corbett and others at City Hall time to change the city’s billboard ordinance if the City Council does want to further restrict where billboards can go.
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