New art, a new festival, but no casino and (mostly) no fireworks: Ten ways Cedar Rapids changed in 2017

The ceremonial wall breaking to kick of the restoration of the historic Douglas Mansion in Cedar Rapids. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

The race for mayor may have dominated much of the news this year in Cedar Rapids, but the changes that happened in the city in 2017 weren’t limited to politics. The city gained new art — including a new music festival and a new theater company — but failed in what many thought was its best chance, and possibly last chance, to get state regulators to approve a casino. The Cedar Rapids Community School District developed a plan to drastically change the size and number of the city’s elementary schools. Unlike Iowa City, Cedar Rapids initially embraced the use of fireworks, then, like Iowa City, it banned them. There was a glimpse of the future, as highway tests for driverless cars began on Interstate 380, and a piece of the past disappeared as a much loved sandwich shop closed its doors.

The year ended with the start of restoration work at the historic Douglas Mansion, but it started with the loss of an important figure in the history of Cedar Rapids, Dr. Percy Harris. Dr. Harris, who died in January at the age of 89, was the first African-American physician in Cedar Rapids and the Linn County Medical Examiner for almost 40 years. He was a civil rights pioneer and one of the most important community leaders in Cedar Rapids. “His very legacy encourages us to stare injustice in the face and stand together for what we know to be right,” Stacey Walker wrote in an appreciation of Dr. Harris that was published in Little Village.

The Harris Family Percy and Lileah Harris pictured in their Bever Avenue home with ten of their twelve children, 1968. Photo from ‘A Healing Presence in Our Community: the Percy G. Harris Story’. This photo originally appeared in a Maytag advertisement in ‘Ebony’ Magazine.

Feb. 14: Letter to the editor: Cedar Rapids will miss Dr. Harris’ humanity, leadership

Every now and again it seems the universe bestows upon humanity one of those ethereal and affable personalities that end up changing the world for the better. Here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we had one of those personalities in Dr. Percy Harris. As far as heroes go, he was the exemplar.

Born during America’s Jim Crow era in 1927 in Durant, Mississippi, Percy Harris lost his father at the age of 2 and his mother at 12. He spent two years of his life in a tuberculosis sanitarium before finding his way to the home of his aunt who lived in Waterloo, Iowa.

The official ribbon cutting for the new mural by AKACORLEONE. — photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance

June 27: Murals and More unveils new Cedar Rapids skywalk mural by AKACORLEONE

A small crowd gathered for the unveiling of a big mural in downtown Cedar Rapids on Monday, June 26. Murals and More, which is steadily creating the Cedar Rapids Mural Trail, dedicated the organization’s first mural of 2017 on the east side of the skywalk on Third Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.

Riffing on Cedar Rapids’ “City of Five Seasons” slogan, Portuguese artist Pedro Campiche, who works under the name AKACORLEONE, has created an eye-catching mural centered on the words “Five Seasons.”

Cedar Rapids — photo by Stijn Debrouwere

July 20: New Cedar Rapids festival celebrates rhythm and soul

On Saturday, July 22, the sounds of soul wafted over the Cedar River with Cedar Rapids’ first Rhythm and Soul on the River festival. For event organizer Richard Burdine, building the fest has been a labor of love.

“I’m a big city guy,” Burdine said in an email, “who wanted to bring a flavor of music that wasn’t being played here and people would appreciate.”

Director Jason Alberty (far R) leads Larry Hansen, Tad Paulson and Kerry Patrick (L-R) in a rehearsal of ‘Men of Tortuga.’ — photo courtesy of Jason Alberty

Aug. 9: The Foundry Forge brings a new theater vision to Cedar Rapids

A new arts organization in Cedar Rapids staged its first production in August. The Foundry Performance Laboratory presented Jason Wells’ Men of Tortuga under the banner of the organization’s performance division, the Foundry Forge.

Arthur Elementary School in Cedar Rapids is among the 13 being considered for replacement. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

Sep. 27: Plan for the future of Cedar Rapids schools calls for closure of eight elementary schools

The Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) is considering closing eight elementary schools and replacing the buildings of almost all the remaining 13 elementary schools, according to a presentation on the district’s new Facilities Master Plan at the CRCSD Board of Education meeting on Monday, Sept. 25. Although the board won’t vote on adopting the plan until December, the main questions left to be resolved appear to be the size of the 13 elementary schools, and how the district’s students will be divided among them.

–illustration by Jordan Sellergren

Nov. 16: Cedar Rapids casino rejected by state gaming commission. Again.

All three proposals for a casino in Cedar Rapids were rejected by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) on Thursday, Nov. 16. The five members of the commission voted 3 to 2 against the proposals, during their meeting at the Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque.

This was the second time since voters in Linn County approved a gambling referendum in 2013 that the commission has rejected a casino in Cedar Rapids. In 2014, the commission voted 4 to 1 against issuing a license for the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino.

Illustration courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation

Nov. 22: Driverless car tests have started on I-380

Highway tests of driverless cars have begun on Interstate 380, between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa Department of Transportation Director Mark Lowe said in a November interview with Radio Iowa. But this first phase of the testing is likely to disappoint anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of something futuristic while commuting between the two cities.

A stand selling fireworks outside the Iowa City Walmart shown on Friday, June 30. — photo by Zak Neumann

Dec. 5: Cedar Rapids bans fireworks

Once was enough when it comes to fireworks in Cedar Rapids it seems. The Cedar Rapids City Council voted on Tuesday, Dec. 5 to ban the use of consumer fireworks within city limits. The ban came one week after the council voted to restrict the sale of consumer fireworks to areas zoned for industrial use.

The ceremonial wall breaking to kick of the restoration of the historic Douglas Mansion in Cedar Rapids. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

Dec. 20: History Center kicks off remodeling of century-old Douglas Mansion in Cedar Rapids

A ceremonial wall breaking kicked off renovation and restoration work at the historic Cedar Rapids Douglas Mansion, which will be the new home of the History Center and, if all goes to plan, should open in the fall next year.

The building has deep ties to the Cedar Rapids community. Finished in 1896, the mansion was first home to George Bruce Douglas and his family. Douglas’ father started the Stuart and Douglas Mill, which would become the Quaker Oats factory, and Douglas and his brother began the Douglas Starch Works, which would become Penford and now Ingredion, Inc.

Shawna Lane (center) has owned Sub City since 2003. — photo by Jordan Sellergren

Dec. 22: Submarine down: Cedar Rapids sub shop closing after 32 years

Cedar Rapids is losing another sub shop and another historic building. Shawna Lane, owner of Sub City on First Avenue since 2003, will close doors for good on Friday, Dec. 22, “if I make it to Friday,” she said. “I’m not buying any more inventory.”

Sub City’s closure is in part because a reduced downtown population led to a decrease in her downtown lunch customers. “Verizon has laid off a lot of people,” Lane told me over the hum of the deli slicer. But ultimately, Sub City will close its doors because building owner Skogman Realty has bought out leases to the restaurant and adjacent buildings, with plans to demolish them and erect a new company office.

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