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ICON Water Trails to reject bid for downtown projects, seeks options to keep project on track


Officials behind the ICON Water Trails initiative will be meeting to forge a path forward after saying they will reject the sole bid received for projects funded in part by a federal BUILD grant.

The $125 million initiative is being funded through a combination of a capital campaign and public dollars. It includes the development of projects that connect more than 80 sites along 150 miles of rivers and creeks in Central Iowa.

One of those funding sources is a $25 million BUILD grant that was awarded by the Federal Highway Administration to help fund projects at Scott Avenue, Prospect Park, Birdland Marina and Harriet Street in Des Moines.

The Scott Avenue bridge section is the largest of the first phase of the initiative, and is intended to create a safer, more user-friendly area for activities from kayaking to fishing. The other projects include boat launches and trails, among other improvements.

An earlier request for proposals received no bids, so a second request went out and the deadline was extended until March 29. Only one bid was received, for $72.9 million.

Officials with the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is administering the grant, said that the bid will be rejected and that they will begin talks with ICON officials, the design team and the bidder to review the cost differences and discuss steps to move the project forward.

The estimated costs of the projects covered by the BUILD grant have not been released, on the advice of the Federal Highway Administration to maintain a competitive bidding environment in the future, officials said.

Documents from the city’s Urban Design Review Board estimated the cost of just the Scott Avenue bridge section at $27.5 million.

Gunnar Olson, communications and strategy manager for the MPO, acknowledged there is frustration, “though we recognize this isn’t the only project facing a difficult bidding environment,” caused in part by inflation, supply chain disruptions and a worker shortage.

“Nevertheless, the project backers all want to see this project happen and are determined to find a way forward,” Olson said in an email statement.

He said project backers are working to schedule a meeting with the bidder, design team, and state, federal and private partners as soon as possible, although a date has not been determined.

Funds from the BUILD grant must be spent by Sept. 30, and Olson said, “We are still exploring options to begin the work before the money needs to be appropriated” by that deadline.

So far, just over $70 million has been raised for the project. That includes the $25 million BUILD grant, $15 million from the state’s Water Infrastructure Fund using American Rescue Plan Act funds, and a capital campaign that has raised about $30 million of its $33.5 million goal.

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