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"Parklets" Could Change Look of One Downtown Cedar Rapids Street

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Creating a more "pedestrian-friendly" look on one downtown Cedar Rapids street is now a job for something called "parklets."

The removable, wooden platforms are going up in front of Zins Restaurant and Theatre Cedar Rapids on 3rd Street S.E. this week. And several other businesses, including the Lost Cuban restaurant, have expressed interest in the movable platforms for use as outdoor dining space.

The parklet program was approved by the city council back in May. The city purchased four of the platforms that will be available for use in warmer months. Businesses say the cost for the first year is just $60. The price may go up in following years if they prove popular. The eight by 20 foot sections fit inside a parallel parking spot next to a street curb. The idea is the platform, coupled with a portion of the sidewalk, will be used to create outdoor seating for diners or other uses. The city earlier this year reduced 3rd Street S.E. to just two travel lanes and two bike lanes. There's also room in the middle for a series of planters. When combined, supporters say the whole effect will be a transformed streetscape look.

Supporters say using parklets is a much cheaper solution than street construction to create more seasonal areas for pedestrians and outdoor seating. The platforms include planters and wire cables to separate the seating area from the street itself. Businesses using a parklet will also be able to use a portion of the sidewalk for outdoor seating. Chris Miller, manager of Zins, said he expects to have space for about eight outdoor tables. Miller said outdoor seating has been a frequent request from customers during warmer months.

"We'll seat that based on requests. And I think it'll be a popular spot when the weather is cooperative," Miller said.

Miller said the outdoor seating areas created on the much-wider 2nd Street S.E. is what he and other 3rd Street merchants have in mind. But narrowing 3rd Street to create the same effect would probably cost $3-million dollars. So the city opted for new lane markets and the $15,000 wooden boxes to create that pedestrian-friendly street look on a budget.

Theatre Cedar Rapids will use its parklet for mingling space for patrons during and before shows. Plans also call for placing a piano on the parklet platform to allow outdoor music as a way to entice more people to stop and visit the theater.

Casey Prince, executive director of Theatre Cedar Rapids, said he wanted one of the platforms mainly to help create a better look for the whole block.

"We don't have very big plans for it other than to change people's perspectives about our block. We want a block you can stop on and grab tickets and not just drive by," Prince said.

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