Expect the unexpected in this colorful, smart and thriving city.
Cedar Rapids is not your run-of-the-mill community. Its unique features are attracting new people to the area and encouraging “boomerangsâ€ to move back home.
Dana Larson was raised here and left for college and a career that took her to San Francisco and New York City. But 27 years later, Larson chose to relocate with her two young children back to her hometown, where she says she’s found great schools, affordable housing, a short commute and a strong community.
Larson and other “boomerangsâ€ say they have discovered not only these amenities but also a renewed energy here buzzing with startups, new festivals and expanded parks.
These are just a few of the things that may surprise not only those who have lived here and returned but also recent newcomers and prospective new residents who are exploring all the facets of what this dynamic community has become today.
Read on for a closer look:
1. A Youthful Spirit
Nearly 23% of the population in Cedar Rapids is between the ages of 20 and 34, and the vibe, no matter the age overall, is energetic. Both the young and the “young at heartâ€ are staying active, engaged and entertained with activities like Market After Dark, a giant farmers market that includes a stage for live performances, street entertainment and some of the area’s best homegrown and homemade items.
There are opportunities to walk, run, hike and bike along the American Discovery Trail, which includes more than 500 miles of trails in Iowa and numerous parks. Cedar Rapids is a destination for cyclists, and RAGBRAI, the hugely popular annual bicycle race across Iowa, has made local stops on its course that changes annually.
Meanwhile, young families especially enjoy the many local parks. Larson says Bever Park and local trails are among her family’s favorites.
2. Creativity on Every Corner
Opportunities for arts and cultural experiences are abundant. There’s access to numerous local museums, concerts and arts programs that will suit just about every taste.
The Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio offers programs and classes for youth and adults of all ability levels and maintains a residency program for artists. Groups, such as Orchestra Iowa and Paramount Theatre, bring residents of eastern Iowa a broad range of quality cultural, educational and entertainment events.
“I’ve never seen such an accomplished and sophisticated community theater as Theatre Cedar Rapids,â€ Larson says.
This growing creative energy is carried into the area’s business community, too.
“The biggest surprise upon my return was the depth of talent in creative fields here,â€ says Larson, executive director of communications and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement. “The writers, photographers, designers and videographers that I have worked with here are amazing.”
3. A Sustainable Future
The city of Cedar Rapids is here to stay, and a major reason behind this is because the city continues to improve its structures and harnesses every opportunity to increase business in the area. For example, Eastern Iowa Airport is currently undergoing the third of a five-phase renovation project that includes a renovated terminal, improved experiences for passengers and greater cargo capabilities. Plus, the airport is one of just a few in the Midwest to be designated a foreign trade zone, which is allowing the airport to become a hub for international trade by making international shipping more affordable.
4. Urban Amenities
Miles of fields does not describe Cedar Rapids’ makeup. While in an agricultural state, this city has a much more urban look and feel than you might expect, and it includes great independent restaurants. Among locals’ favorites is downtown’s Need Pizza, which opened in 2015 and quickly became popular with its New Haven-style pizza and dozens of craft beers.
Other Cedar Rapids amenities that sometimes surprise newcomers are the great facilities like McGrath Amphitheatre, a sprawling outdoor venue that hosts a lineup of popular performers and events, and Veterans Memorial Stadium, the home field for the minor league Cedar Rapids Kernels.
Adding to the area’s appeal are unique and affordable residential areas and shopping centers like Lindale Mall, an enclosed regional mall with dozens of retail, dining and entertainment options and the site of events and activities throughout the year.
“We may not have the same volume of events or attractions like a big city, but there are so many cool and unique things taking place in the area that you can always be busy doing something fun,â€ Ciccariello says.
5. It’s Highly Educated
The residents of Cedar Rapids have hit the books. In fact, of those age 25 to 34, more than 37% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Home to Capri College, Coe College, Cornell College, Kirkwood Community College and Mount Mercy University, the area encourages higher education and provides residents with numerous locations and degree program options. Plus, the prestigious University of Iowa is only a half-hour drive away in Iowa City.
Newcomers and boomerangs alike say the area’s strong school systems enhance the high quality of life and are major factors in living here.