CEDAR RAPIDS — This city has a south side, too.
That geographic fact can get lost in all that has been made of late about the competition between Cedar Rapids and its north-side suburban neighbor, Hiawatha, to keep and attract businesses.
But don’t think for a minute that Cedar Rapids is only looking to the north when it comes to jobs and growth.
Quietly and persistently, the city of Cedar Rapids continues to invest millions of dollars in sewer infrastructure and street and bridge improvements on the city’s far south side to position the city to expand as an industrial powerhouse in the state of Iowa.
The largest of these projects, with an estimated $22 million cost, is the city Public Works Department’s plan for three miles of new, 66-inch-diameter sanitary sewer line designed to handle future industrial growth from Highway 30 south to The Eastern Iowa Airport for the next 50 to 80 years, said the city’s project engineer, Dave Wallace.
At the same time, the city also is ready to spend $4 million to upgrade a 1.25-mile stretch of 76th Avenue SW west to Edgewood Road SW, a road improvement that mirrors recent work done to extend to 60th Avenue SW to Edgewood Road SW.
The sewer and street projects are coming on the heels of the construction of two viaducts over railroad tracks that have removed bottlenecks on Edgewood Road SW to help open up the area south of Highway 30 for additional industrial development.
This is an area perhaps 10 square miles in size, still largely undeveloped, that is identified in the city’s comprehensive plan as the central spot for the city’s industrial growth in the 21st century.
In just the last few years, the industrial area has become home to Archer Daniels Midland’s large ethanol plant south of the company’s existing corn-sweetener operation and a new plant and headquarters of Cedar Rapids firm Diamond V Mills.
Looking to build
Rob Davis, the city’s engineering operations manager, says city officials regularly get inquiries from agricultural-processing industries about available land in the south-side industrial area and about the city’s ability to provide sanitary sewer service and water service to it. Just such an inquiry came in the last couple of weeks, he said.
Davis said the city is a center for agricultural-processing plants with high water and sanitary-sewer needs, like Quaker, ADM, Cargill, Genencor and Penford. For that reason, he wants to make sure it can support industrial expansion for similar kinds of companies in the future.
Without proper planning, design and construction, a process that can take three to four years on most sewer and street projects, opportunities can be missed if the infrastructure isn’t in place before a company comes calling, Davis said.
In fact, Davis and Wallace note that the city did not have ample sanitary sewer capacity in place to meet the needs at Diamond V Mills’ new plant for about six months after the company opened the new facility in 2009. Luckily, Diamond V Mills, which is a local firm, was willing to truck away waste for a few months.
Davis said at-grade rail crossings and an old bridge on Edgewood Road SW south of Highway 30 were significant impediments to companies that had expressed some interest in the city’s industrial area south of Highway 30. Two viaducts on Edgewood Road SW fixed the problems when they opened in 2009, and now replacing and enlarging the sanitary sewer trunk line serving the area and making road improvements on 60th and 76th avenues SW will further open the area to new industrial development.
“With the viaducts and the paved roads and the utilities in, I think those inquires we get are going to become a lot more realities,” Davis says.
Scott Olson, a commercial Realtor and City Council member, says investment in sewers, streets and viaducts on the city’s far south side makes sense because it is the city’s one industrial growth area. The city has some old industrial areas that might one day be reused, he said, but as for new industrial growth, “That’s it,” he says of the area between Highway 30 and the airport.