MASON CITY – State officials are in the dark – just as the people of Mason City are – on any idea of what city hall is doing with a “contingency plan” connected to a downtown hotel project the mayor and council seem hell-bent to see to the end, at any cost.
Leveraging tax increment financing (TIF) and state dollars as well as some private investment, officials in Mason City want a new downtown hotel built – a hotel that would compete with existing hotels (the brand new Hampton Inn owned by Kinseth, for example) in town that are already paying taxes to the city. If that hotel goes ahead, the city might be able to spend another $12 million or so on upgrades to Southbridge Mall – which was recently snapped out of the bargain bin for $1.5 million by a New York company with a shaky history – to build an ice arena. City council members like Travis Hickey claim this ice area will fill the mall with new businesses and restaurants. A parking ramp, pavilion and mixed-use building round out the $36 million “Renaissance” project for Mason City’s downtown.
Critical to the “Mason City Reinvestment District project” as it is known to the state of Iowa is $10 million the city has asked for from them. They won’t hand out the dollars without a viable hotel connected to the project. Time is running out on G8 Development and Philip Chodur, picked by Mayor Eric Bookmeyer years ago as the hotel developer of choice. Chodur has been seen around city hall earlier this year with Bookmeyer and the late Alex Kuhn, even driving around town together in Kuhn’s BMW. These three appear to have been working closely together since perhaps 2014 or maybe even 2013 on this hotel development, when it was first announced (but never went anywhere despite promises that ground would be broken in Spring of 2014). City council members have questioned City Administrator Brent Trout as to why they were excluded from intimate knowledge of the on-going saga connected with this development. Mr. Trout has answered, publicly, that it was due to to Bookmeyer’s high level of interest in seeing the project through that the council has been largely left out of the process (Mr. Trout is owned by Bookmeyer – some say he fears the mayor – even though the council decides whether he keeps his job in city hall).
Now, NIT has learned that as city hall has lost confidence that Philip Chodur (who’s office is in a trailer park) will break ground on his proposed Marriott Hotel (the site is next to city hall in a parking lot) by October 31. That would essentially jettison him from the project and leave the city in the lurch on the hotel. As the confidence level in Mr. Chodur dwindled, NIT has further learned that Eric Bookmeyer – again, hell bent on the hotel and the Renaissance project – has sought and come to some kind of agreement with a developer out of Illinois with ties to the Mason City Chamber of Commerce. This appears to be the “contingency plan” that Mr. Trout has let slip in utterances at city council meetings.
NIT has asked Mr. Trout a number of questions in recent days about this development and others. Mr. Trout has not responded.
As NIT and by default the people of Mason City are left searching for knowledge as to the latest backroom dealings of Eric Bookmeyer and city hall, so too are state officials whom have the final say on the $10 million the city needs to help the $36 million Renaissance project come to fruition.
Today, NIT was told that even as city officials (most likely, Bookmeyer, Mr. Trout, and possibly others) will be in Des Moines Friday to meet with these state officials who hold the purse strings, those officials have no detail whatsoever on the city’s “contingency plan”.
“The board meets tomorrow and will get an update on the Mason City project,” NIT is today told by Tina Hoffman, Marketing and Communications Director at the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “They may take action, but there is a possibility they could delay that action as well.
“Our staff is aware that there is a contingency plan in place, although we do not have any details as to what that is,” Ms. Hoffman continued. “Perhaps the representatives from M.C. will share more about that with the board tomorrow.”
More to come on this developing situation.