Posted on April 11, 2018 at 4:43 PM by Kevin Jenison
The official ribbon cutting may be weeks away but I took advantage of an unusually perfect spring day and ventured out to the area off of Houser Street where the Muscatine Pollinator Park and the Muscatine Dog Park will be located.
April has not been the best for outdoor activities as yet but with plenty of sunshine and temperatures close to 60 degrees, the inspiration to venture out to the area and see the progress was too much to resist.
I have to admit the inspiration came in part from Muscatine Street Maintenance Supervisor Randy Howell who told me during a meeting earlier in the week that city crews had been out clearing brush away from the old railroad bridge on the abandoned Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad Corporation tracks west of Houser Street. That bridge is part of the Pollinator Park Trail, a one-mile segment that circumnavigates the park and travels around the Muscatine Transfer & Recycling Center from the Kent Stein Park trailhead back to the Houser Street-Musser Street intersection where it reconnects with the Kent Stein-Deep Lakes Park Trail.
Most of the trail has a rock base which is easy to traverse while walking but does make riding the trail a bit more of a challenge. Paving of the trail is anticipated later on if a grant can be secured to pay for the paving. Meanwhile, the trail can be walked but just be warned that there is still some work to be done at the bridge before it will be available for pedestrian traffic.
While out taking pictures of the bridge I did decide to walk the trail … after all it is just a mile in length and it was a pretty pleasant day. While the grasses, flowers, and trees that will beautify the Pollinator Park are still in their winter slumber or awaiting more appropriate weather to be planted, the walk did give me a sense of what visitors can expect in the months and years ahead.
Once over the bridge, the trail turns and runs alongside the area where the Muscatine Dog Park will be located. The grass is still pretty brown but the area is staked out and you just can imagine the three fenced in areas that are planned, the trees that will be planted, and almost hear the playful barking of the many canines and their owners who will be able to take advantage of Muscatine’s first dog park.
The trail continues on into Pollinator Park itself. Even the noise from the passing vehicles on the 61 bypass cannot drown out the songs sung by the many birds that inhabit the area or dampen the tranquility of this walk through nature. Imagine, if you will, the park as it matures and becomes a haven and a home for all the pollinators that are so important to our lives. (You can Google Muscatine Pollinator Project for more information).
Every step of the trail will take the pedestrian or bicyclist past something worthy to see or to experience. Even walking around the Recycling Center & Transfer Station has its rewards in the nature that abounds along that stretch of the Muscatine Slough.
This is another great addition to the trail system and the park system that the City of Muscatine and Muscatine County enjoys. This is a testament to the visionaries who have worked and are working hard to provide safe, accessible places to walk or ride a bike. These individuals are not resting on their laurels either as they continue to discuss and seek out ways to enhance the current trails or find funding to create new trails or extend others.
Among those are a short section that would connect the Muscatine High School trailhead on Cedar Street with the Houser Street trailhead located near Karen Drive, the currently in development West Side Trail that would connect the Kent Stein trailhead with Discovery Park, and the Mad Creek Trail which may become part of the Riverfront improvement project and complete a recreational trail that would extend from the Mississippi River to the Park Avenue West trailhead on the north side of the bypass.
What Muscatine has is a concerted effort from both the public and private sectors to create recreational opportunities that will keep residents and visitors coming back and enjoying the simplistic, safe, and accessible parks and trail systems that Muscatine offers. It is a vision that extends beyond the riverfront, beyond the downtown area, and even beyond the borders of the city.
Pollinator Park will become a valuable gem among nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts as it matures in the years to come. It will be an educational experience for school children and adults alike. It will be a recreational experience for those who just want to commune with Mother Nature (as long as she cooperates with warm temperatures and at least partly sunny skies).
These little loops off the main trail are a welcomed change to the hiker or bicycle rider. And this is just the first of the “mini-trails” that the City of Muscatine and trail enthusiasts are looking at. There will be more to come on this little off-shoots of the main lines in the future.
Until then, I look forward to another hike along the Pollinator Park Trail later this year and capturing the maturing landscape and the pollinators who will also be paying a visit on their travels.
-Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager
Posted on March 22, 2018 at 1:10 PM by Kevin Jenison
I recently ran across the accompanying picture posted by Project for Public Spaces on Twitter and I could not help but think just how valid the point is and just how much it resonates with the reconstruction of the Mississippi Drive corridor.
“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” – Fred Kent.
Kent is one of the founders of Project for Public Spaces and one of the leading authorities on revitalizing city spaces. His PPS biography also notes that he is one of the foremost thinkers in livability, smart growth, and the future of the city.
And the future of Muscatine is what the Mississippi Drive Corridor Revitalization Project is all about.
When U.S. 61 was the main thoroughfare through Muscatine it was designed and built for cars and traffic. It was a roadway for traffic to move from one side of Muscatine to the other as quickly and efficiently as possible without any consideration of the places and destinations in between the entry and exit points of Muscatine.
Although traffic was cut in half by the opening of the U.S. 61 by-pass in 1985, the newly designated Business 61 continued on as a thoroughfare for moving from one end of Muscatine to the other with only the brief hesitations for traffic lights. The Grandview Avenue and Mississippi Drive corridors began to suffer under the cars and traffic philosophy as businesses closed or moved to more desirable locations as traffic kept passing them by, and residents sought more desirable locations to live.
Mississippi Drive began to crumble under the weight of persistent Mississippi River flooding and a decaying substructure that made even the simplest of repairs proved to be cost prohibitive. Plenty of evidence was gathered that confirmed that the roadway needed to be completely renovated even with the reduced amount of traffic, and that merged with an idea and a vision that had sprung up from the renovations being undertaken at Riverside Park.
Riverside Park has gone through two renovations (plans for a third are now on the drawing board) as the riverfront was transformed from a railroad switch yard and a declining business district to the envy of most river towns up and down the Mississippi River. This park is becoming the place that people want to visit when they come to Muscatine and what better way to promote this Gateway to Muscatine than to connect it to the Downtown Business District utilizing a revitalized Mississippi Drive.
Placemaking is the concept of planning cities with people and places in mind instead of cars and traffic. It is not a new concept but it is one that has been gaining steam especially with movement towards the promotion of healthier lifestyles and the development of communities and neighborhoods that are walkable. Placemaking also promotes the idea that public spaces are the heart of a community.
Riverside Park is a destination that gives Muscatine both an identity and an image from which new investment, new businesses, and new residents are attracted to come, shop, stay, and live. Riverside Park is not the only destination in Muscatine but it is one of the most prominent. The investment into the park deserves an investment into the connections to that park such as an updated Mississippi Drive and the revitalization of the downtown business district.
The revitalization of the downtown area is already underway with new businesses opening, buildings being renovated, and apartments are remodeled and rented or leased to those who seek the urban lifestyle with a small town feel.
When Muscatine successfully negotiated the transfer of jurisdiction of Mississippi Drive (the old Business 61) in 2015 the opportunity presented itself to design a corridor that would blend well with and provide a solid connection between the riverfront and the downtown area.
Urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) said that cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.
The City of Muscatine, along with the engineers from the design team, understood that message and launched the largest public outreach campaign ever attempted by the municipality. Through numerous public meetings and informational sessions with the City Council, a plan came into focus that highlighted the natural beauty of the park with landscaped medians and highlighted the convenience of the shops, restaurants, and an urban living lifestyle of the downtown with sidewalks and crosswalks that enhanced the safety of pedestrians.
The Mississippi Drive Corridor Project thus became more than just another city project, it became a project of the citizens of Muscatine. The plan was developed through the vast amount of input from citizens and businesses with an eye on the required elements from the federal government (which is funding the project).
That vision is now becoming a reality with the portion from Iowa Avenue to Broadway completed except for a few finishing touches that were left to complete when winter shut down the project.
What Muscatine will have when the project is completed later this year is a corridor that features a downtown area that is accessible and well connected to the green space of Riverside Park, a corridor that projects the positive image of a Muscatine full of promise for a better future, a corridor that attracts people to stop, shop, eat, and participate in the various activities, and a corridor that helps create a social environment that people want to come back to time and time again.
The Mississippi Drive Corridor Reconstruction Project is much more than just replacing a worn out four-lane highway, it is about creating and promoting Muscatine as a GREAT PLACE. It is about replacing the final images of an industrial riverfront with the image of a community rekindling the vital social interactions of people and places that have gone missing in recent years. It is about replacing the focus on cars and traffic with a focus on the people and places that make a community great.
Posted on February 28, 2018 at 11:56 AM by Kevin Jenison
Some individuals have the idea that if the Local Option Sales Tax (L.O.S.T.) question is approved it will increase their taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, LOST could benefit local taxpayers by holding off increases in fees and tax rates, at least in regards to paying for the mandated sewer replacement project and the City’s pavement management program.
L.O.S.T. is a special-purpose tax implemented and levied at the city or county level and always attached onto a state’s base sales tax rate, most commonly at a rate of one percent (1%). The tax is not just a tax on the buying habits of local residents but rather a tax on the buying habits of anyone who purchases a product or service within Muscatine County. The local option tax collected within a county is placed in a special distribution fund which is dispersed on the basis of population and property tax levies.
The special-purpose tax can only be implemented upon approval by voters in the city or county and the referendum must state exactly what the money will be used for. Once stated, and approved, the money cannot be used for any other purpose unless another special election is held to change the distribution of the revenue received.
The City of Muscatine is asking voters to approve extending the local option sales tax for a 15-year period starting July 1, 2019 and ending June 30, 2034. Specifically, the ballot question states that not less than 80 percent of the proceeds will be used for sanitary and storm sewer projects with the rest used to fund the Pavement Management Program.
L.O.S.T. has been a part of the local economy since July 1, 1994, after Muscatine voters approved the first ballot question in May of 1994. All proceeds collected during the five-year period were entirely used to fund sanitary and storm sewer projects.
The same ballot question was approved for another five-year period in August 1998. However, in January 2003 voters were asked to redefine the distribution of L.O.S.T. funds with up to 10 percent of the revenue assisting in the financing of the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects.
Eight projects were included in the $10.67 million Pearl of the Mississippi Project including the Weed Park Aquatic Center, American Heritage Trail Extension, Musser Park Skatepark, community art, marina improvements, boat launch relocation, Riverview Center renovation, and the Environmental Learning Center at Discovery Park.
From FY 2002/2003 through FY 2008/2009, L.O.S.T. contributed $1.5 million to the overall project fund.
To continue funding the sanitary and storm sewer projects, and the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects, voters approved another five-year extension in January 2004. With the contribution to the Pearl of the Mississippi Projects ending in the first half of 2009, the City of Muscatine opted to continue splitting the L.O.S.T. proceeds when the question came up again in August 2008.
The aging city infrastructure had been a matter of debate for many years and the City of Muscatine saw an opportunity to fund repairs to the city streets, sidewalks, and alleys through L.O.S.T. When voters were asked in August 2008 to extend L.O.S.T. for a 10-year period, they were also asked to approve not less than 80 percent of the revenue going towards sanitary and storm sewer projects and no more than 20 percent for pavement management projects. Eighty-one percent of the voters who went to the polls supported the measure.
Approximately $533,000 of each year’s L.O.S.T. revenue has been transferred to the Pavement Management Program with $4.25 million of street improvement projects completed during the first eight years of the program. These funds were also used to supplement Road Use Tax funds that are used to support the annual Asphalt Overlay and full-depth concrete patching. L.O.S.T. revenue also supplemented funds for the Colorado and Cedar streets reconstruction projects as well as the Diana Queen Drive Extension project. The reconstruction of Cleveland Street from Park Avenue to 2nd Avenue is the latest example of the use of local option sales tax revenue to improve the infrastructure of the city.
Of course the main reason for L.O.S.T. is funding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated sewer separation which requires the City to complete specific major projects by 2028. The West Hill Sewer Separation Project is the final project included in the EPA Consent Order. The City reached the half way point of the six phases late in 2017 which marked 34 percent completion of the sewer separation.
Phase IV of the project begins this spring and continues for the next three years and completes another 17 percent of the overall project with Phase V scheduled for 2020 through 2022 completing another 13 percent. The largest and most expensive of the phases begins in 2022 with Phase VI which will complete the final 36 percent of the sewer separation project.
A total of $54.4 million has been raised in the 23 year history of the local option sales tax with $49.7 million spent on the various sewer separation projects since 1994. It is estimated that $40.1 million will be needed to fund the remaining three phases.
L.O.S.T. is a significant factor in the City being able to keep sewer fees and the city tax rate from being affected by the mandated EPA Consent Order. The extension of the local option sales tax means that Muscatine will be able to complete the sewer separation project within the parameters set by the federal government without the use of additional taxpayer dollars.