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Citizens scrambling for details on fast-moving arena deal introduced by city hall


This news story was published on December 20, 2016.
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Home to an arena?

MASON CITY – City Hall in Mason City has cobbled together yet another path to a multi-use facility in Southbridge Mall and is moving quickly to finalize the project, leaving citizens to scramble for details, this time on an arena that the city wants to pay for and then lease, costing $18 million.

Some citizens who have paid attention to the antics of Mayor Eric Bookmeyer since he took office in 2010 have seen this kind of thing before: Among a slew of gaffes and stumbles, he pursued a failed arena attempt back in 2010-2012; a failed trash burning plant soon thereafter; the failed privatization of the city’s sanitation department; a fatal, doomed, failed hog slaughterhouse – all these deals championed by Eric Bookmeyer were shot down as bad deals and not wanted by the citizens.  He has no legacy except failure as mayor, and this man wants to change that in the worst way, NIT is told, in a desperate attempt to put something on a resume for his life once he is ousted as mayor, likely this next year.

Bookmeyer: No, legacy, no resume, no job. Where will he stop in his quest to change that?

City hall – as always led by Bookmeyer – has tried for years to build an arena in the downtown. He proposed a committee be formed in 2010 for this very reason and finally in 2012, the mayor marched out City Administrator Brent Trout to proclaim the arena project would not work. As NIT reported back in 2012, “This arena was to be Mayor Eric Bookmeyer’s crowning achievement, his mark left on the community … however, Trout said that the council and mayor want to focus on job creation instead of the arena. He made this announcement just a few minutes before he outlined the mayor’s master plan to eliminate twelve city sanitation jobs.”

Philip Chodur: No dice on financing for hotel.

Bookmeyer and company never really quit on the arena, though, as it has been tied for at least a couple of years now to a failing attempt to build a hotel downtown with developer Philip Chodur, the trailer park mogul and lawsuit-artist of Southern California. That deal died earlier this month when Chodur finally came clean and could not garner financing for the hotel.

Even as Chodur never got close to breaking ground, Southbridge Mall was sold for a paltry sum of $1.5 million to a New York developer with a sketchy past, to say the least. It now appears that Bookmeyer and company wasted no time in drawing up papers with this new owner to put $13 million into the mall for the new arena in the former JC Penney and then spend $5 million leasing it back. The plan was thrust upon the citizens in a public hearing announcement that was emailed out this weekend. Citizens are now struggling to digest what this all means. Where is the state of Iowa in all this, and the $10 million the city pursues for the “Downtown Renaissance”? What is going on with the hotel (now rumored to have a Minneapolis developer in the mix)? What happens if the arena doesn’t draw the crowds (and the revenue) city hall thinks it will? Who in city hall is actually qualified to predict this arena will be successful?  Is the mayor an economic development genius or a mentally-unstable individual with clouded judgement who won’t stop until he “wins one”?  What about the problems that were uncovered during the 2010-2012 attempt at an arena, are those solved now?  How about the looming takeover of the city recreation department by Mercy, how does that fit in?  What about the huge, multi-million dollar gymnasium the Mason City school board plans to build?

Here is what we know so far:

The new owner of Southbridge Mall, based in New York, goes by at least three names: Tehran Kohansieh is his original name, but also goes by Mike Kohan and Mike Kohen (as reported by the Orlando Sentinel).  A search of these aliases shows that he is about 50 years of age and has had numerous legal entanglements over the years he has been in the mall business.  He seems to own 19 malls currently, spread out across the country (Kohan Retail Investment Group).  Also included in the search results is numerous stories in the media covering his troubles with his mall properties, some going into great detail about power shutoffs due to non-payment of utility bills; skipping of court dates; tenants in Kohan-owned properties using space heaters to heat their storefronts; malls taken away from him due to disrepair and squalor; infrastructure shortfalls; failure to pay taxes; outstanding bench warrants for Mr. Kohan; and other safety hazards. A Worthington, Minnesota councilman said of Kohan “We’ve lost a lot of value in (a Kohan-owned mall in that town) and a lot of business over the years” in the Northland Mall, which the council there declared to be a hazardous building.

Kohan (or Kohen, or Kohansieh) has defended his record, saying that not all properties can be saved and claims to have some success stories.

What has Mason City citizens concerned is that, despite these obvious warning signs if not outright evidence of trouble and a checkered past by the owner of Southbridge Mall, Eric Bookmeyer and the city council went forward and tasked city staff with compiling a legal agreement with Kohan to use $13 million in city funds to build a multi-use arena inside the mall (which was just purchased for only $1.5 million) and then spend $5 million over 20 years to lease the arena from Kohan.

Paul Adams, Mason City’s new city council member

As the city council prepares to meet tonight on this issue, some are asking “Who will speak for the people who have legitimate concerns?” Some feel it is clear that Bookmeyer has fast-tracked the arena project like he did with the Prestage pork plant, leaving citizens little time to respond or get up to speed on the proposal. Many are placing their hopes on newly-elected councilman Paul Adams, who ran on a platform of transparency and working closely with citizens.

More to come on this developing saga.

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46 Responses to Citizens scrambling for details on fast-moving arena deal introduced by city hall

  1. Green Devil Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    Turn it down like you did the other major projects; Osage has 75 acres shovel ready for a big project!

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      December 22, 2016 at 1:46 am

      And when the state has a need for a large pig f*cker venue, I’m sure Osage and Mitchel county will be on the top of their list.

  2. whatever Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Anyone that says this will not cost the taxpayers anything is just full of BS. The same things were said when the mall was built and I would like to see an accounting of how many millions of dollars that has cost us over the years. There is a reason this is not being built by a private investor and that is because its a money loser.

  3. rukidding Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Lets take a hard look at the arenas in Waterloo, Austin, Burlington and see if any similar facilities are making ends meet. If not if will not make it here either.

  4. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Again I will repeat, conservative full profit and loss including all investment from all parties involved. The results of the P and L print here and the Globe for all parties to study, maybe even a letter to every mailbox in Cerro Gordo county that says in bold red letters read this carefully, then shortly thereafter have the open discussions. Too many people show up for the meetings uninformed and then fly off the handle. Just a friendly reminder state or federal money is not free, it is your tax dollars at work, of course we want the money in our community if it makes sense and adds real value if not then pass it along. If the arena or whatever it becomes does not cash flow then end it otherwise it will bite us all in the end. Whatever you do, do not try to force this upon the community without good open communications and consensus. Next: Our focus needs to be clearly focused on good job creation in North Iowa. When you have a healthy job market for both blue and white collar that pay decent wages everything gets much easier via generating more tax base. Remember when we had the fantastic computer company in clear lake?, good pay, good benefits and taxes generated big time.
    I just listened to the Mayor on 1300 while driving to my office, I do admit I like Brent’s talk and enthusiasm in regards to our community, unfortunately he mentioned working at this for 9 years how much time do you need?

  5. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 9:23 am

    We the tax paying residents wouldn’t have to put a dime into. Any funding our officials agree to will be at our cost. The residents have already had to paid the price for all there mistakes & financial burden to Mason City. If the tax paying residents have to pay the price for there mistake than we could be the ones deciding what were funding. Not our officials who make the decision at our expenses. They have no idea what it’s like to live on what most people make a year in this town. Anyone that has 3 different names doesn’t showed to trusting. Or are they going to finalize a deal again that just fall through at our expenses. They want the mall than they need to get there our funding not the citizens. We already been here more than once. There’s nothing here in Mason city to drawn attention or incurring people to come to MC. Low paying job, high taxes and nothing to really do for entertainment. With all the shooting and death we had just in the last few years sure isnt going to help either. Towns dieing with nothing to help make it grow. That’s why our mayor & hes bullies were backing Prestige as they were. So much so that they were harassing others to the point we lost a life over it. A good man that was doing what was best for all. This should have never went on as long as it did. Can’t tell me others council members or citizens didn’t see this going on. Rick Mathis going as far as showing up at Alex employment to bully him. I’m sure we don’t even know the half of it. We wouldn’t know what really happened with Alex if hes dad wouldn’t of made it public. Hes dad article is the best thing that happened for us here in Mason City. Definately a great start in the right direction. As long as Brookmeyer, Hickey and Mathis are apart of making decision for our community I will never approve. Good or bad I would never never trust again. When you go to the point of costing a life. Than blaming others for there mistakes + failures. If any ones to blame we can thank them . Hope they can sleep at night. Its to bad Alex’s family are the ones really hurting and suffering for all there mistake. God bless Alex’s family prayers are with you through this Christmas holidays.

  6. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 8:27 am

    A boon – A doggle – BOONDOGGLE !!!!! If you like your doctor you can keep him. Famous last words from a con artist .

  7. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Bookie and his corruptible gang of thieves are at it again -part of the Clinton Foundation? Us taxpayers will foot the bill and pay the property taxes on this lead balloon for the next 30 years . Cool move -buy the property then lease it out – could be 1 dollar a year – that said the owner of the property (you fools) would pay the property taxes on the 18 million dollar property every year and the corporation leasing it would skate – Its called TIF -look it up fools on your property tax assessment..

    • DR. J Reply Report comment

      December 21, 2016 at 10:03 am

      You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about and are clearly misinformed.

  8. joshua C Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 7:23 am

    I will admit i was ill informed on this situation, due to the incomplete articles on this site. I would recommend going to the meeting, and asking questions. If this is being funded by state grants, i dont think its a bad thing at all. This city has far too many empty buildings. Something needs to be done with south bridge mall, before its too late.

  9. J.G. Reply Report comment

    December 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Well bet none of you know that this new mall owner isn’t doing so hot already. On more than two occasions 3 or more of the malls employees, maintenance/security, there paychecks have bounced. NO MONEY TO PAY THEM! some bills/accounts not getting paid either. So he is probably more than willing to let this arena build there to get himself some $$. Who buys properties and never steps foot in them? Weird….He still hasn’t been here to the mall. He’s just as shady as a couple of the council members. .so who is charge of the care and upkeep of the arena on hockey off-season?? What about hiring someone to try to fill up some empty spaces in the mall? By the time this arena is up n running it will b the only thing left in the mall. So many of the stores sales are down. There isn’t traffic in the mall like there was 5-10 years ago. Maybe online shopping has been part of the reason but not the only reason. Lots of questions unanswered. Like all other ideas or plans that the mayor is trying for,. He likes to keep it hush hush til the last minute to keep public Mis informed and no time to fight against it. Well now the ppl of this town are on to him n his buddies little sly schemes , and know to keep both eyes and ears open at all times and pay close attention to fight for what we want . Not what THEY want. Thanks for listening .from a genuinely Concerned lie-long mc resident, and SBMall employee.

  10. Dick Neely Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Perhaps the fact that Trout and Bookmeyer are for this, is what makes people immediately assume that treachery is afoot. History tells us those two are generally up to no good, and are only looking out for their own interests. Maybe someone, say like a newly elected councilman, could get on board, lay out all the facts, pros and cons, so people can make their own educated opinions. Otherwise we are subjected to this back and forth banter once again.

  11. rukidding Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Didn’t the City pay to do a feasibility study and the results show that these things are money losers? I am not against the ice arena IF a private investor builds it and it is self supporting otherwise this should never be funded with tax dollars.

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 10:18 pm

      how many times can it be said–its not being funded with your tax dollars. if it was it would be required BY LAW to be placed on the ballot of the next election. For some reason, most on this site just disregard the facts to support their own negative positions.

      • Anonymous Reply Report comment

        December 21, 2016 at 7:38 am

        I respectfully disagree down the road i could see if the youth hockey prosmise to raise 2 million dollars fall threw the the city will then introduce that the city property tax payers make up the difference which is wrong that why this should be voted no as alex khun said it a bad deal for the city citzens, and i also say the people as bill schickel said the mason city citzens need to be whole heartly in this for it to work and I do not think they are.

      • Anonymous Reply Report comment

        December 21, 2016 at 7:39 am

        That is not true. It is funded with tax dollars. $500K from the county is your tax dollars, TIF is your tax dollars even though it is future tax dollars, local option sales tax is tax dollars and even state grant are tax dollars. So, do not say it isn’t tax dollars because it is. It is not property tax dollars but it is what it is. That is what people hate when they try to mislead us. Private enterprise should be doing this, not our tax money. Most of this town could care less about a hockey rink.

        • IowaBoy Reply Report comment

          December 21, 2016 at 7:54 am

          Very Good response and I totally agree with you, MOST citizens could care less about a hockey rink and definitely tax dollars used, and as usual it will end up costing us much more!

        • DR. J Reply Report comment

          December 21, 2016 at 10:02 am

          I will concede that the 500k of county tax dollars may have came from property tax revenues(I’m not sure). However, I doubt the county will need to raise their tax rate to cover-I’m sure it’s coming from reserves. The TIF revenue is revenue that will only exist if the arena is built–If it’s not built it will never exist. The LOST rate will be the same whether an arena is built or not. The state grant dollars already exist and will go to another community if we don’t ask for and receive them. whether an arena is built or not your property tax rate and sales tax rate will not change. Their will be no impact on property tax payers of Mason City. You can’t ask for a much better scenario-as a tax payer.

          • Anonymous

            December 21, 2016 at 11:55 am

            Very well put, with this simple statement you have me on board. This will be good for our city.

          • Anonymous

            December 21, 2016 at 12:14 pm

            Of course that is assuming that their figures are correct, and that they are not just flat lying to us again like they did with Central Park and Northbridge. Of course there will not be any cost over runs or engineering changes. What about infastructure? There will have to be changes in that. Is the city donating that? What about the engineering charges that have already been incurred? Who is paying that? It is closing in on a million dollars already. I am sorry, I do not trust or believe them after being lied to so many times.

  12. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Normally It is sad to see this continuing fight between this site, the City Administrator and Mayor. However the bottom line is what matters based upon the ability to create good jobs which will generate additional taxes and make the community a better place to live. Sorry to say the City Administrator and Mayor, time to move on, if the community does not believe in you any more you really need to step down. In regards to the ice arena, I know there are some intelligent people on the EDC (K. Bales being the one I trust, if he is still there) that could put together a really easy to read Profit and Loss with conservative estimates to show the community this is good or bad. I know this might not be their normal agenda but I am sure they would help. And please breakdown the city, state and business investment participation and all other key investment/investors. Once this is complete then post the spread sheet of the Profit and loss estimate / information here and the Globe for people to digest. Then when you have an open discussion it will hopefully lead towards some success which this community needs.
    thanks

    • JVS Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      The funding sources for the project have been very well documented. Because of the Grant and the tax increment created by the arena itself and the potential hotel—the community is very nearly getting a free multipurpose arena. past attempts to build an area have all mostly been funded by tax payer dollars which ultimately don’t pencil out well(P/L as you suggest). This is different- its funded primarily with funds that will leave our community if we don’t apply for and receive them from the state(via the grant).

  13. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Fast Moving…….. baloney, its been in the works for several years.

  14. Anonymous Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I have already contacted the three councilmen that I think might be able to do some good. The other three are just well known tools. Now we will see. If they want to spend that much money just rebuild the rink where it is and gold plate it. At least we won’t be giving money to another hustler.

  15. JVS Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Seems the author leaves out an important detail. As I understand it, the 13 million isn’t “city funds” as is stated in the article-its upwards of 10 million of state grant funds; a few million from the hockey people; and the remainder from NEW taxes generated by the arena itself and the new hotel. The state must believe this is a great project to commit those kind of resources. If we don’t get it than some other community will. Is that what you all want?

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      It is stil and the 5 million p/year lease is definitely Mason City Taxpayer money. I a little over two years we will be past the 10 million. The guy who own the mall is another slum lord con artist. Why would we trust him with anything.

      • JVS Reply Report comment

        December 20, 2016 at 1:43 pm

        It is not-and if it was you would definitely get to vote on it at the ballot box. and where do you see 5 million per year? of course, those are the little details that are left to the readers imagination. it is not 5 million per year–it’s over the life of the lease 20+ years. I appreciate your concerns about the landlord, but that’s why you have a lease, so you don’t rely on trust and have a legally enforceable agreement to protect the State of Iowa investment.

        • JVS Reply Report comment

          December 20, 2016 at 2:29 pm

          my apologies to the author; I reread the article it does clearly state 5 million over 20+ years in at least one place.

  16. ************************************** Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Another thing it’s not NITS fault it’s out fricken drunken mayor and some of his croonies on the council. No one in this dying town wants to look into the mirror and ask WHY WHY WHY what the f**k is going on here in good ole RIVER CITY!

  17. ************************************** Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 11:44 am

    I’m not with NIT and the idea of having an arena is great but why and I mean why would the city want to pay 13 million plus the 5 million to the owner??? How many times do we have to pay for this fricken mall that no one shops at?? If you think the arena is going to draw thousands every game your wrong. The admission will have to up so people will say screw it. If it was a sports complex that also could house concerts,home shows or even RV shows might draw some more people, Our town is dying right in front of our eyes.

  18. anonymight Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 11:36 am

    HEY NIT, how about an honest article on the subject instead another one of your “I hate the mayor” epistles? I won’t hold my breath thinking we will see such an article though.

    • B gott Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Please DO hold your breath for maybe 15-20 minutes and get back to us on how that goes for you, Obama lover.

  19. graham man Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 11:07 am

    stay out of this NIt we need this hockey arena some of us loves our champian BULLS hockey team maybe you are jealous they keep winning all the titles so why dont you just SHUT UP and stay OUT of this your imnput not.wanted. PS i can’t log in to my subscription what is the password

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 11:25 am

      Then maybe the BULLS can pay for the arena.

      • Anonymous Reply Report comment

        December 20, 2016 at 1:47 pm

        Some of the comments on this article are the dumbest things I’ve ever seen. This arena would be mostly funded by a state grant that if the city doesn’t get then the money is GONE. It’s an opportunity to make some kind of attempt at bringing SOME kind of solution to revitalizing downtown. And if we don’t get the grant for the arena then the money is gone. After that, any possible solution would more than likely have to be funded with taxpayer money. (Whereas the arena would NOT.)

        Also, for everyone that is saying that spending any money on a project like this to revitalize downtown is a waste because no one would go, what is this completely FREE solution you have in mind? You’re not going to make anything that is even remotely enticing to go to without spending money. A LOT of money. If you don’t want your town to die, then it’s going to have a cost. That how it works.

        PS: I can’t log into my subscription what is the password?

        • +++++++++++++ Reply Report comment

          December 20, 2016 at 2:47 pm

          Only in Mason City could a gift like this be messed up……

    • Foma Kiniaev Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 11:29 am

      Since you “loves” your champian BULLS” why not fork over the money to pay for the arena? Why does MC have to pay for something not everyone wants?

      • anonymous Reply Report comment

        December 20, 2016 at 5:29 pm

        If Mason City went ahead only with things everybody in Mason City wanted, then nothing would EVER get done. Your statement only works for you. Let’s hear the details before condemning it.

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      This comment is just the best….

    • Anonymous Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Hey so called graham man – why don’t you go eat a ham and cheese sandwich! We do what we want, where we want and that includes hockey rink as horse hockey! They don’t even do twofers any more at the games.

  20. Harold H Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 11:01 am

    WOW. I didn’t know things were THIS bad. I truly hope our new councilman remembers who he replaced and steps up (God rest his soul). I think he has it in him, he was so confident when he spoke to my wife and me at my door. I played hockey back in 1953 was pretty good at it but I hung my skates up in 1962 for good. Now my only prayer is to pay my taxes which keep going up.

  21. ************************************** Reply Report comment

    December 20, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Man we must be the dumbest city in iowa. Just why in the hell would we spend 13 million to redo this and then pay him 5 million for the lease. Who the f**k is running this town? Come on Kevin Jacobson your math and business skills are better then this. OR are you getting a kick back like your drunken buddy and his puppet Trout????????? Just wondering???????

    • IowaBoy Reply Report comment

      December 20, 2016 at 11:43 pm

      DITTO!!! Anyone can see that this deal is a joke, on the citizens of Mason City.