COUNCIL BLUFFS — The Bluffs park that greets walkers, runners and bikers crossing the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge will open Memorial Day weekend with a two-week festival featuring the Beach Boys and other entertainers.
Officials unveiled grand opening plans Monday for the $7 million River's Edge Park being developed at the Council Bluffs landing of the bridge, which spans the Missouri River.
The festivities, called Loessfest, will kick off May 25 with a performance by The Beach Boys. Other performances will include the Omaha Symphony, on May 26, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, on the last day of the festival, June 8.
Bluffs officials want Loessfest to become an annual event.
“It begins to showcase what this park can do and what it can be,” said Larry Foster, Council Bluffs' Parks and Recreation director.
The name Loessfest is a reference to the Loess Hills, which lines the east side of the Missouri River plain in western Iowa. Admission to all events will be free.
Designed to offer recreation and entertainment, the park encompasses 95 acres north and south of the pedestrian bridge.
The park's centerpiece is the Great Lawn, intended as an ideal spot for activities such as reading, throwing Frisbees or walking pets.
The new park also has an amphitheater to accommodate up to 1,100 people. Foster said that with people sitting or standing on the Great Lawn, performers could entertain a crowd of 10,000.
The lawn will also feature an interactive light display, called “Rays,” by artist Dan Corson. Using 16 light projectors, it will colorfully illuminate the area around the lawn after dark, with changing light patterns visible from Omaha.
“It will be a must-see anytime during the year,” said Pete Tulipana, president and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation, which is funding the Rays project.
Parking was added to provide access to the park. A two-lane park road begins in the Harrah's parking lot a half-mile south of the Great Lawn and connects to a 150-stall parking lot inside the park.
A donors plaza south of the Great Lawn is also in the works. Vertical display panels will feature the names or dedications of 660 people who gave money for the project.
Parts of the project were scaled back to help the city repair damage inflicted by 2011 flooding. The park's first phase of $11 million was reduced to around $7 million. The Iowa West Foundation provided a $5.4 million grant for the park's development, plus an additional $500,000 for the light display.
A beach-like area and a concrete plaza near the Great Lawn were eliminated, and the park road was redesigned to travel through Harrah's parking lot instead of taking a separate route.
Much of the park is meant to remain a natural wetlands. Officials have said it's designed so that if flooding occurs, water will drain away naturally.
The River's Edge Park complements the Omaha riverfront, which has condominiums, government offices, TD Ameritrade Park and CenturyLink Center, giving it a more urban feel.
“The dream has always been on this side to have a very green park, a very natural park,” Foster said. “The difference is what makes it interesting. You can walk from one to the other” across the Kerrey bridge.
Bluffs officials said damage from the 2011 summer flooding was relatively minor at the park site, considering that the land was under water for more than 100 days.
Said Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan: “We're going to have a great summer. This will be just the first summer. This park will be here for years and years and for generations to come.”
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