MASON CITY – Today, Mason City Mayor Eric Bookmeyer met behind locked doors at a downtown bar with a hotel company president.
Bookmeyer was spotted at the 1910 Grille Friday afternoon around 2:45 PM; his car was parked out front on State Street next to a black Cadillac SUV. Sitting at the bar with Bookmeyer was one other man – Steve Noto. There did not appear to be anyone else at the bar except a server standing nearby in a white smock. Access to the hotel was open, but the doors to the restaurant / bar were locked. Employees standing near the locked door inside the Historic Park Inn hotel lobby said “that’s closed” when an attempt to go inside was made. They then said “the president of this place” was inside. Noto is listed as the President of HPI Partners, LLC. They acknowledged that Bookmeyer was inside sitting at the bar with him. A call from NIT to the hotel later Friday seeking Noto was taken by an employee who said Noto had left but had met with Bookmeyer this afternoon. As Bookmeyer met with Noto, the mayor’s office in city hall just one block away sat empty.
NIT asked employees of City Hall and elected officials what the meeting could be about, but no one had a definitive answer. It is common knowledge that Bookmeyer has been on a quest for years to find someone to build a hotel in downtown Mason City, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars out of city hall to a defunct parking ramp / hotel project that seems to have gotten nowhere. It should be noted that sources tell NIT that Noto and the Historic Park Inn have not opposed this new hotel development; in fact, Noto is the son-in-law of Jim Thompson, who owns the Stoney Creek Hospitality company, an outfit Noto is also connected to as Chief Financial Officer. Stoney Creek has been rumored to be in the mix as a possible hotel developer that could step in and build a hotel in downtown Mason City to help revive the Downtown Renaissance project, which at this time appears to be on life-support.
Minutes before Bookmeyer’s clandestine, locked-door meeting with Noto in the Park Inn was uncovered, City Administrator Brent Trout was spotted walking with a group of 6-8 people very close by. They were all finely-dressed, or, as one citizen said “dressed professionally.” Trout was leading this group through Central Park, pointing here and there, talking, as the group looked on. Some of them laughed and chatted among themselves as they strolled down the misty, foggy, damp sidewalks. The group made its way to the public parking lot next door to City Hall, where a hotel and parking ramp will be built if Bookmeyer gets his way. As the group of people began to go their separate ways, Philip Chodur of San Diego emerged. You may remember Philip Chodur; he has been working with Bookmeyer, trying for years to build a hotel in downtown Mason City but has thus far failed to secure the financing to do so. Chodur crossed the street from the parking lot / City Hall along 1st Street NW and was seen getting into a white compact car with Illinois license plates parked directly across from City Hall. He backed out of his parking space, drove about 30 feet east, and then pulled to the side of the street, stopping directly on a handicapped parking space. There he sat for nearly 5 minutes before he drove away.
The city continues to actively seek a hotelier to build a hotel in downtown Mason City. Thursday, January 19, the City of Mason City released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the downtown hotel that is part of the River City Renaissance Project. The City seeks potential developers for the hotel project, it proclaimed on its website.
A hotel is, again, crucial for the downtown Renaissance project. Those private investment dollars could help unlock up to $10 million in state dollars toward the 5-point, $36 million project which included at one time a hotel, parking ramp, pavilion, mixed-use building and of course, a controversial multi-purpose ice arena. The city will seek upwards of $18 million in bonds to finance the construction ($13 million) and lease ($5 million) of that structure that would be built in the former JC Penney building at Southbridge Mall. On March 7, Mason City voters will decide if they trust Bookmeyer and the city council with a new Capitol Improvement Levy (tax) that could impose up to 67 cents of tax on property owners per $1,000 in valuation.