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Mason City doles out nearly $400,000 for parking ramp that may never be built

Public lot downtown Mason City, January 13, 2017. A hotel and parking ramp could be built here. Voters will have a big say in the future.

MASON CITY – Times are tough at city hall in Mason City as budgets are tight, property assessments are on the rise, and a new tax levy is being introduced, but well over $400,000 has been spent on designs and legal fees for a parking ramp and hotel that may never be built.

Fourteen months ago, Mason City officials marched out three design concepts for a parking ramp that would be attached to a Marriott Hotel. Both structures were to be built in a public parking lot just west of city hall. NIT has learned that the cost out of city hall to have three parking ramp designs put together by engineers and additional legal fees total in excess of $400,000 and there is no end in sight. Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, the city council and city staff continue to push forward on the so-called downtown “Renaissance” project that includes a hotel, parking ramp, mixed-use building, music pavilion and of course, a multi-use ice arena. Promises were made as far back as four years ago that ground would be broken on the hotel – but Bookmeyer and company have never been able to deliver (see: Philip Chodur default on agreement with city to develop hotel).

Despite these promises and eventual failures over the years, city hall continues to spend big money on the projects.  According to facts and figures gathered by citizens and then delivered to NIT:

Payments to WHKS for design/engineering work for parking ramp:

03/28/2016- $52,748.53

05/23/2016- $2,380.43

07/15/2016- $336.32

09/06/2016- $220,590.77

10/13/2016- $68,341.00

10/28/2016- $9,137.35

12/05/2016- 44,532.26

Total to WHKS is $398,066.66

Mason City council and mayor listen to Finance Director Kevin Jacobson explain how the capitol improvement levy would work on Monday night, January 9, 2017.

Additionally, payments for legal work towards the development agreement for the hotel total $28,402.36, bring expenditures to a grand total so far of $426,469.02.  Countless city staff hours and resources devoted to this project are not included.

The current status of the parking ramp is in total limbo at this time. Using hushed voices during a Monday night work session, the council and mayor huddled with city administrator Brent Trout to discuss the future of the arena and hotel. It was difficult to hear at times, but it was said by Bookmeyer and Mr. Trout that there is some hotel developer looming that might get involved in the project; those private dollars from a developer are crucial in order for up to $10 million in potential state dollars to come into the Renaissance project. No hotel, no area. No hotel, no parking ramp.

At the same time, concerns in the community are growing regarding two proposals city hall wants voters to approve.

One is $18 million in bonds for the multi-use arena. The other is a “capitol improvement” levy that will cost property owners up to 67 cents per $1,000 in valuation. Despite assurances out of city hall that the dollars collected in the levy would be used for vital city purposes and save on bonding and interest costs, some fear the levy is nothing more than a “slush fund” to cover the potentially exorbitant costs of maintaining a possible multi-use arena.

Tuesday night, the city council is likely to unanimously approve a March 7 election date for the capital improvement levy. To succeed, the item must get 50% +1 of the ballots.

Later this summer, voters will be confronted with an election for the $18 million in bonds to build and lease the multi-use arena. That proposal needs a 60% approval to pass.

More to come on this rapidly-evolving situation.

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Just a bunch of ole timers who complain about city officials trying to make things better fill empty spaces with something useful ya know what if your happy with hoarding your pennies driving through town seeing boarded up buildings move to one of the many farm towns surrounding MC I’m sure we can get the city a mobile RN to drive to you and clean up your shit I for one am willing to spend some money so my kids have something better and actually want to stay in MC instead of hearing what kids say now about the home town being nothing but a dive filled with ole timers scared of the possibilities of change

Sentences & paragraphs are your friend.

I have been hearing that crap for years and years and nothing ever changes other than we have more empty buildings and apartments now filled with imports living off the rest of us.

HOLD TROUT ACCOUNTABLE!!!

Spending $400k to leverage $36M in investment sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I’d be more upset with Mason City’s ‘coalition of curmudgeons’ for likely sinking this project with their petition and circus like antics at city meetings.

Won’t happen! And more like $750,000 counting gift to Younkers, so far.

Let’s just round it up to $800k for good measure. Still only about 2% of the $36M investment. In your personal finances, you wouldn’t spend $2 to get $100 in benefits? I sure would.

Way too many uncertainties for the future ! Longevity is the issue for me ! What happens when the North Iowa Bulls decide to leave Mason City ? The biggest revenue source dries up. The event center part of the project is too small to attract big name entertainment…and if after paying for the event if it isn’t sold out..there go the profits. With the low incomes in MC, most of our own families could not afford to attend. Most families are looking for affordable venues. It is difficult for most to even go to the movies..Costs an average family of four : Tickets, popcorn, pop/water, one pkg of candy = $ 52.00. ..that is huge with our population. It’s just too risky !!

You’re substantially overstating the risk. If the Bulls leave, income would be still be generated with ice time rental or additional events backfilled in its place. In fact, this scenario is more likely to have positive impacts than negative (just as it was when Wells Fargo arena briefly lost their ice hockey team).

To your second scenario where a event doesn’t sell out. You have a misunderstanding in how events are contracted to a facilty like this. The arena still collects their rent for the event regardless of ticket sales. The risk of how profitable a event is rests entirely with the production company, not with the arena.

Well bring back twofors at the hockey games and that will help!

What a numskull -getting back 11k for a 10k debt – obamma must have hired you. Liberals lie and lie and lie – then they cried when Trump called their BLUFF!

So, according to you…you should never buy or do anything until you have the cash money? Borrowing money is always bad???

Ask yourself – Can I really afford this? Well if I don’t need it and reallycannot afford it WHY am I burying it. ? Big banks and their credit cards have this country basically in poverty – nice big house-new pickup = no savings account living month to month – what a great life – son – you need to work for the government. Financial statement from our city. on a bond payment the other day – payment was almost $10,000 – GUESS what ? That was for interest ONLY! This leads me to believe our city is in deep chit and hiding the true facts about TIF/grants and city bonds for their pet projects and friends.

You’re assuming all debt is bad. If you are getting a return of 11,000 on debt service of 10,000, is that really bad?

When you do business with this administration you want to have all the lights turned on; no shadows anywhere. What a shame. This is comparable to a criminal enterprise.

For you uninformed serfs -TIF is a RIPOFF – Corporate type way of getting money for mostly shams – YOUR PAYING for it – look at your property tax assessment breakdown under TIF! I pay $250 dollars EXTRA on my property taxes to this county for their pet projects – NONE of them became worthwhile as a monetary benefit such as good paying jobs. Who do you think will pay the property taxes on this project 30 million dollar assessment – YOU! – you dummy – they divide the cost and each property owner pays his/her share. Liberal ripoff of the private sector working people. Your grandkids will be paying property taxes (TIF) on this big local government fat cat dream. You don;t have to kick the can down the road – just go skating as Obummer and his worthless party (con game) has done for the past 8 years.

Funny how you say this is a liberal rip off when the man spending all this money, our mayor, is one of the biggest Republicans I know! You really should know what you’re talking about before posting, you make yourself look like a fool.

And the Bookie Branstad behind the scenes, under the table deal making almost brought us a Prestage slaughter house.

The mall will pay the property tax on the arena and the hotel propieter will pay the tax on the hotel. You will not be paying the property tax on the $30M project.

The TIF line item on your tax bill is nothing more than accounting nomenclature. Even if the TIF district didn’t exist, you would still be paying the $250, it’s just wouldn’t be called TIF and would show up in other line items.

TIF financing is difficult for most to understand as it’s somewhat complex. Educate yourself on how TIF works – ask some smart folks to explain it to you. It’s a great tool for cities to use to promote growth.

You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. (This is not intended to be an endorsement for the use of tif, that is a whole conversation on its own-just a clarification). The TIF amount listed on your tax assessment is there because you must live in a tif district. the amount you see listed is simply tracking the Incremental tax your property has created since the district was put into place. it is not an additional tax. the tax you pay would be the same whether you live in the tif district or not.

The way TIF works, for every dollar spent, 25 cents goes to the Brain – someone is always on the take.

After the mayor and his buddies on the City Council have found roundabout ways to put the City’s money in their pockets with their grandiose ideas that exist only in their own minds. He is not going to run for another term.

Please get out and VOTE NO to the tax levy and send a message to these big spenders!

If you vote ‘no’ on the capital improvement levy, you are a total knucklehead with zero understanding of elementary economics. If you feel like you must vote no, please find someone smart to explain to you why this is a sound financial strategy for the city.

They need to use the Local Option Sales Tax for what it was meant for like roads, infrastructure, etc. and NOT for these “knucklehead” projects. With that and spending our tax dollars wisely, then there would not be a shortfall.

You could not be more wrong on how Mason cit’s local option sales taxes are utilized. Please have someone intelligent explain this levy to you before you vote.

Calling people names to express your opinion is unacceptable human behavior. Use data, knowledge, and facts to sway people with your opinion.

There is no ‘opinion’. Based on ‘fact’, this levy will save Mason City money in the long run. If you do not understand why that is, you need to ask some smart finance folks why this is a sound financial plan

Well I talked to Big Kev and he said it’s a bad deal for the city. So you best go talk to him before you vote.

Local Option Sales Taxes are NOT used for what they were earmarked for, thus the shortfall. Not hard to see that MORE TAX means MORE TAX!!!

In your mind, what was local option sales tax money ‘earmarked’ for? And enlighten all of us as to how you think the money is utilized.

Dear Anonymous:I am happy your experience with Joe was good… mine on the other hand was the most unethical and corrupt. He represented himself as “the agent” for a client who had a building for rent. After 6 month’s of being in business the property had numerous problems (air not working, broken windows, utilities I paid connected to other tenants etc).Joe would claim the owner did not want to fix anything. Finally one of the neighbors told me Joe and his sister actually owned the building. They were under a corporate name anonymously…..wait! Joe is this you???

Bookie and Trout told us this would not cost the taxpayers anything, wrong, this project is not going anywhere and we taxpayers are out near a half million dollars. Am I the only one that is sick of this from our city government?

The number I heard about a month ago was north of 600K. That is the problem I have with the levy. If they didn’t throw away money they would have plenty. The 600K would by a lot of lawn mowers and even a firetruck.

The money for the engineer and lawyer comes from TIF. TIF can’t be used to make capital purchase like trucks and lawnmowers.

So what? That is splitting hairs and you know it. It is still taxpayer money that could be used the way it was intended, not for wet dreams.

Have Chouder’s brother Joe build it…he is the man in Mason City real Estate lol

Ya Boss!,I bought a house from him, he a very good and trustworty.Are you trying to say something else it ,but got no ground to stand on.I got what you are trying too say.And you are what is wrong with Mason City jugde,complain,but got nothing to say or do that is positive.I’ll like to know what you have done in your life BOSS!Let’s hear your great ideas.

Lee is. Skater he need recuse himself from council vote!

Just say no !! We need big voter turnout !

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