June 16--CEDAR RAPIDS -- Supervisor Brent Oleson said it makes artistic and cultural sense for the Linn County Board of Supervisors to contribute up to $250,000 to renovate a downtown Cedar Rapids park.
The city of Cedar Rapids, with the fundraising help of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, plans to spend $1.95 million of public and private funds to transform the one-block-square Greene Square Park into something better.
In recent months, both the city of Cedar Rapids and the Alliance asked the Linn supervisors to help -- though Dee Baird, the Alliance's president and chief executive officer, in April told the supervisors she would understand if her "hope" that the supervisors would contribute $250,000 to the effort was not possible.
On Monday, Oleson told his four supervisor colleagues that he had little interest in writing a big check for a Cedar Rapids city park. But he said he would support spending up to $250,000 for a very specific piece of the park renovation project -- a world-class sculpture.
The Front yard
The reason that the city and the Alliance have targeted Greene Square Park for a transformation is because the possibilities for the park have blossomed now that it sits between the new Cedar Rapids Public Library and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
The park, which will lose some trees in the renovation, is seen now as a front yard for both the library and the art museum. At the same time, a new sculpture sits out front of the library and another is planned for the front of the art museum.
"I think it is fitting for the county, instead of just writing a check, to take on the task of commissioning a world-class sculpture to be the centerpiece between the library's and the Museum of Art's sculptures," Oleson said.
Greene Square Park today is an unspectacular spot next to a parking garage, and the transformation is an effort "to bring back some life and make it world class again," he said.
A new piece of sculpture will contribute to the goal, he added.
He said the Linn County supervisors came to appreciate public art during the county's flood-recovery building projects as the supervisors steered 1 percent of the budget to public art.
Oleson called Supervisors Lu Barron, Linda Langston and Ben Rogers "champions" of public art in the county's flood-recovery rebuilding projects, and all three on Monday agreed to sit on a nine-member, Linn County ad hoc committee to make recommendations on the purchase of public art for the park.
The others named to the committee are Sean Ulmer, Bill Stamats, Jim Kern, Doug Elliott, Kristin Novak and Karen Hoyt.
Langston on Monday called the contribution of public art to Greene Square Park "a great opportunity," but she said the details related to cost would still need to be worked out.
Oleson said there was a grand tradition in Iowa of investing in public buildings and public spaces -- from the Statehouse, to Old Capitol in Iowa City to county courthouses and local libraries -- to make sure they were more than just functional places to carry out public business.
"They weren't just utilitarian buildings, but they were a reflection of our sense of pride in having culture and art built into them," said Oleson, describing the artistry of the Statehouse in which the "sodbusters" in Iowa were willing to invest, he said.
"We've always been a conservative lot with our money, but we always have been about education and culture and passing it on to generations and generations," he said.
Another Iowa tradition, he said, was for one jurisdiction to contribute to a public project in another.
Many Linn County residents outside of Cedar Rapids come to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and to the city's Public Library, which also made a county-funded sculpture in Cedar Rapids' Greene Square Park make sense, he said.
Oleson said the county's effort to commission a sculpture for the park would protect against the county contributing a blank check to a piece of art it didn't like.
"We don't want it to be a statue of Mayor Corbett pointing to the river in all his greatness," he joked.
In April, the Metro Economic Alliance's Baird said the Greene Square Park project could start as soon as September. However, Sven Leff, Cedar Rapids's director of parks and recreation, on Monday said the plan now is to hire a contractor during the winter with work to start in the spring of 2015.
The city will contribute $650,000 to the project; the Hall-Perrine Foundation$250,000; and United Fire Group$100,000.
(c)2014 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
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