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$44 million remains for cities vying for state economic development program; Will MC get a piece?

Des Moines wants money for economic development
Des Moines wants money for economic development

NIT – Iowa set aside $100 million last year for cities looking for a jump-start on economic development projects, and $56 million already went to Des Moines, Waterloo, and Muscatine.

Will Mason City get a piece of the remaining $44 million in the Iowa Reinvestment District, or will the city’s application fall short, as it did last year?

Mason City wants $9.8 million from the state to 1) turn a dud of a mall into a 5,000 seat hockey arena; 2) jump-start a downtown hotel project that has been on life-support since 2013 (ground was to be broken on a hotel there in April of 2014, city hall, the Globe and KIMT proclaimed in October of 2013… it never happened); 3) give Robin Anderson another shot at her dream of a new pavilion; 4) build a parking ramp (the first in MC’s history); and 5) build a mixed-use retail-shopping structure on a weed-infested gravel lot.

Seems as if Mason City has some problems when compared to the other cities looking for funds, but no one really wants to talk about those long odds. The Globe Gazette won’t, that’s for sure; it recently published a list of “17 nuggets that make a person want to say WOW!” that were truth-stretchers, head-scratchers and duplications of some of their points. For example, oddly, they chose to brag about the new Starbucks, but ignore the home-grown Jitters Coffee Bar, which recently successfully moved to its new location in the downtown area. Really, the list was mostly embarrassing and included items that are in the downtown redevelopment proposal discussed above, which is far, far from a done deal. City hall and its media mouthpiece are ignoring the fact that the people of Mason City in recent times shot down the downtown arena plan advanced by city hall. Only a vocal minority wants it now. It is being ignored that there appears to be a gap in the funding to pay for the project.

Jean Marinos was part of the Northbridge failure.  Will she be a part of the next downtown boondoggle?
Jean Marinos was part of the Northbridge failure. Will she be a part of the next downtown boondoggle?

Even if the city gets the $9.8 million (and $500K from the county), that won’t cover the cost of building the arena, pavilion, parking ramp, etc. Where will that money come from? It seems likely this project, if it happens, will fall back on the taxpayers. Remember Northbridge and what Jean Marinos and her council saddled the taxpayers with, over 10 years ago? The city is still paying hundreds of thousands a year to cover that debacle. This deal could be worse. A shrinking, graying population that features more families on reduced-price school meals than not won’t help Mason City’s outlook, should state officials dig that deep as they investigate who to write a check to.

The question is, will state officials dig deep and make the best business decisions for these state dollars, or will they select Mason City just out of pity? To a realist (who still roots for Mason City, but can’t ignore the truths in the real world), selecting Mason City for nearly $10 million in state funds for this project would be a serious stretch. One must wonder if state officials who write the checks from this program will talk to Marriot Hotels during the process to see just how close they are to actually going through with their hotel project west of city hall. A community with about 53% occupancy in its existing hotels – with a new one on the way to replace the Clarion Inn – would seemingly give Marriot pause in going through with this development. And without the hotel, the whole project is dead.

It will be interesting to see what the state does with this $44 million; whether Marriot decides to go ahead; whether opposition in the community materializes and mobilizes in time to argue against the arena, as they did earlier this decade. Or will city hall bully the community once again to get what it wants?

As a comparison, Coralville wants $12 million in funding from the program for a 7,000 seat hockey arena, just a few dozen meters from an Interstate 80 highway that sees upwards of 40,000 cars a day whiz by. Mason City sees about 8,000 cars on the Avenue of the Saints, south of town, on a good day, and that is still almost 3 miles from where the hockey arena would be built in the Southbridge mall. The Iowa City-Coralville-North Liberty area boasts lots of attractive features, including thousands of people in a rapidly-growing metro area with plenty of disposable income and young people looking for things to do. It is a happening place. This would be a wise investment by the state to give Coralville the $12 million. How can it miss? Can the same things be said about Mason City, at this time? Sadly, no. Not even close. In fact, – in contrast to the other cities looking for funds – it seems likely that Mason City’s population will continue to slide, as it has at least since the 2010 census, to well under 28,000 and to new depths. The school district enrollment is declining, as well, even as it was recently reported that Iowa City will soar above 16,000 school kids (not the University of Iowa) by the end of the decade.

JC Penney.  Could this be the home of an ice arena?
JC Penney. Could this be the home of an ice arena?

Since Governor Terry Branstad appointed Mason City mayor Eric Bookmeyer to a state economic development board, it will be interesting to see if he has any strings to pull. If he can “make the sale”. Or will this entire deal be just another distraction in an election year (3 city council seats)? More hot air from a man who has failed on most every point he has bloviated about in his “state of the city” addresses for 5 years? In a way, he has put himself on the hot seat here. Let us sit back and see if he can pull this deal through. Other cities in the mix for the $44 million include Sioux City, Davenport, Cedar Falls, Waukee and Des Moines. That is some stiff competition, and their deals were likely put together in a more thoughtful, deliberate process, whereas Mason City’s was slapped together only since JC Penney announced in January it would close its store.


More background on this topic:

City of Waukee Submits Iowa Reinvestment Act Pre-application for Kettlestone District

The City of Waukee submitted a pre-application for funding through the Iowa Reinvestment Act on March 13, 2015. The pre-application is for the “Kettlestone Lakes Reinvestment District” located just north of Interstate 80 and west of Grand Prairie Parkway. This 25-acre hub of entertainment and activity offers high visibility and direct, convenient access from I-80, and will feature a hotel and conference center, an amphitheater and events center, trails and greenway, and mixed-use retail.

The Waukee City Council approved the “Kettlestone Lakes Reinvestment District” for the pre-application process in a special meeting on March 9. The total project cost is estimated at $91,388,700 and the City of Waukee is applying for $20 million in funding.

Heart of America Group is the proposed hotel and convention center developer. The 175-room hotel and convention center would feature a 12,000 square foot event space just across the lake from an amphitheater. The hotel and convention center would also be home to a rooftop restaurant and bar.

Visit the Kettlestone website to read more about the projects in the Kettlestone Lakes Reinvestment District in the “Unique In Nature” narrative portion of the pre-application.

Kettlestone Website

Economic Development Board approves $12 million reinvestment district funding for Waterloo

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) board this year met to approve funding for the City of Waterloo through the Iowa Reinvestment District program.

The board approved the maximum benefit amount of $12 million for the TechWorks Campus Reinvestment District plan submitted by the City of Waterloo. The Iowa Reinvestment District Program is designed to assist communities in developing transformative projects that will improve the quality of life, create and enhance unique opportunities, and substantially benefit the community, region and state. The program provides for up to $100 million in new state hotel/motel and sales tax revenues to be “reinvested” within approved districts. Districts cannot exceed 25 acres in size, and must be in an Urban Renewal Area.

Iowa Reinvestment District plans must include tax revenues generated by “new retail establishments” and “new lessors”. New retail establishments cannot exceed 50 percent of the total proposed capital investment. At least one of the new proposed projects within the district must reach a total capital investment of $10 million. And, the total amount of new tax revenues to be remitted to the municipality cannot exceed 35 percent of the total cost of all proposed projects in the district plan.

In 2014, 10 municipalities submitted applications, with three receiving a score in excess of 70 points (out of 100). In June, 2014, the IEDA board approved provisional funding for the projects in the City of Des Moines, the City of Muscatine and the City of Waterloo. Final application materials fully meeting all of the program’s requirements are due prior to March 1, 2015.

The City of Waterloo submitted its final application on Jan. 23, 2015, and the IEDA board acted to award the maximum $12 million benefit amount contingent on the receipt of a fully executed, amended development agreement between the City of Waterloo, Cedar Valley TechWorks and the developer.

The TechWorks district, located at the west end of downtown and made up of land donated by Deere & Company, would have a capital investment of $74.1 million and include three projects. The first is a mixed-use development including a business-class hotel, industrial incubator, private sector lab and manufacturing maker-space, and John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum. The second project area includes commercial out-lots such as a restaurants and retailers that complement other project areas. The third project area includes a marina for boat storage, boat sales, fuel sales and a riverfront restaurant.

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