Cedar Rapids wants answers on possible sale of Riverside Park

Penford will have some hoops to jump through even with its $1.6 million offer

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April 3, 2014 | 4:29 pm

CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s going to take more than Penford Products Co.’s purchase offer of $1.67 million and its agreement to replace a skate park, ball diamond and playground before the Cedar Rapids City Council agrees to sell the company a public park.

Penford has said it wants to buy the 11-acre Riverside Park for a possible expansion of its 225-employee plant next door. The City Council decided Tuesday night to move in the direction of negotiating the sale, but not before each of the nine council members contributes to a list of questions and requests that it wants discussed at the bargaining table.

Pat Shey, Ann Poe and Monica Vernon said the city shouldn’t be quick to part with a park that has value to residents and their children and grandchildren.

“We do have a lot of leverage here,” Shey said. “... We have a say. We’re the seller and we get to put those conditions on.”

Vernon has said she wants Penford to address air-quality concerns that might come with any expansion of the corn wet-milling plant.

And Poe asked Tuesday night if an access road between the park and Penford will remain available to the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. That facility, which sits on the other side of the 12th Avenue bridge from the park and Penford, opposes the sale of the park.

Poe did say Penford’s offer “was nothing to sneeze about,” but she added that selling a park “goes against my grain.”

Don Karr, though, said the council needed to be careful in asking too much from a company as part of a sale of the park, which he said could result in the company dropping its offer and ending its expansion plans in Cedar Rapids.

“Are we going to set 500 things we want them to do to buy this piece of property?” he asked.

Chuck Swore, who along with Karr and Justin Shields has spoken in favor of the park sale to improve Penford’s expansion prospects, said the company has been open and forthcoming about its plans and its willingness to work with the city.

Mayor Ron Corbett and Kris Gulick have expressed an interest in the city keeping the title to the park until Penford has a clear expansion plan that it is ready to move ahead on. And Scott Olson suggested that the city give Penford a window of time to come up with an expansion plan, after which the city could withdraw its willingness to sell the park to the company.

“I want to try to eliminate the speculative nature of the project,” Gulick said.

Back in December, Penford announced it wanted to purchase the park next to its riverfront plant, saying it needed an area in which to grow if was to attract a partner to help it expand its bioproducts manufacturing operation.

In late February, the City Council sought proposals from entities wanting to buy the park, but only Penford submitted a proposal by the March 30 deadline.

City officials said Tuesday night that the purchase offer of $1,669,716 is enough to cover the appraised value of the 11-acre park and city right of way, repayment of grants the city has received for the park, and costs to replace and relocate the park’s amenities, which include a skate park and ball diamond.

Penford’s has said it does not now have clear expansion plans, but it believes that the purchase of Riverside Park will lead to a plant expansion. Such a move, company officials project, will mean $30 million to $100 million in new investment, 20 to 150 construction jobs and 20 to 50 more plant jobs.

A vote on the sale could come in June, Corbett indicated.

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