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Samantha Wellik, 14, Forest City, who died Tuesday, enjoyed horseback riding at Harmony Ranch in Clear Lake. Pictured in the photo with her is Bill Bredlow of Harmony Ranch.

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Kevin Knebel works as a 911 dispatcher at the Winnebago County Law Enforcement Center in August 2016. 

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City officials, IEDA discussed idea of 'tapping brakes' on Mason City hotel agreement (with emails)

MASON CITY | The senior project manager for the IEDA suggested to Mason City and Chamber officials that "tapping the brakes" regarding the hotel development agreement — a key part of the roughly $39 million downtown River City Renaissance Project — may have increased community buy in, just 10 days before the City Council unanimously approved a development agreement with G8.

The message, sent in an email Dec. 18, 2017, from Iowa Economic Development Authority Senior Project Manager Alaina Santizo to multiple city officials, was part of dozens of emails the Globe Gazette reviewed this past week as part of an open records request.

Iowa's open records laws, also known as “sunshine laws,” attempt to ensure state government at all levels is as transparent and accountable to the public as possible, according to the Iowa Public Information Board, which oversees open records and open meetings complaints. 

Emails between government employees and local elected officials, such as those who work for IEDA, the city of Mason City or are council members, are considered public record, which everyone has the right to examine or copy unless the content falls under limited exceptions in Iowa law. 

In the aforementioned exchange, Santizo wrote she had heard there was concern from some Mason City residents about the change from Gatehouse Capital to G8 Development, and that those "claims state that the public support is eroding from the project."

Santizo added any possible delays in the development agreement would not hurt the state funding end of the roughly $39 million project.

Email 1

"If tapping the brakes to make sure there is broad buy in for moving forward makes sense, this will not jeopardize the Reinvestment District application," she wrote.

Then-Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, one of the recipients of the email, asked G8 supporter Steve Noto of HPI Hospitality to respond to Santizo's questions.

Noto wrote in his response doubts about the project didn't reflect upon the "entire community," and Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Robin Anderson admitted the following statement in an email with him:

"I can honestly say the citizens don’t care who builds, owns, or manages the hotel. It is all the other stuff they care about ... and all the other stuff that is going to contribute to the quality of life and sense of place," Anderson wrote, according to Noto.

Both Santizo and Noto did not return two phone calls or an email from the Globe Gazette requesting comment Friday afternoon.

Anderson, when asked by Santizo via email about the conversation, confirmed she did say that, but added she still had concerns about the public's stance on the project.

"Not having the Development Agreement available for people to review prior to the mayor signing it is a PROBLEM. There is NOT an environment of trust in our community right now," she wrote.

She agreed with Santizo city officials could "tap the brakes" and ensure that important aspects of the project — the Music Man Square conference center, skywalk, performing arts pavilion and other pieces — were implemented in some formal agreement.

Email 2

"Perhaps it is as simple as requiring G8 to have an agreement in place with The Mason City Foundation PRIOR to the City signing off on the Development Agreement," Anderson wrote.

In an interview with the Globe Gazette Friday, Anderson said she attended the IEDA meeting earlier this month, when the board deferred action on the project. She added board members felt Mason City residents were supportive because of the Music Man Square and conference center piece of the project.

"I think the state has always been supportive of their project … if you look at their actions, giving us extensions, giving us more time, I think everything has pointed to that," she said.

"They also have a responsibility for the taxpayers, and I appreciate them being careful and making sure we're having all of our ducks in a row," Anderson added.

Outside of the hotel development exchange, G8 President Philip Chodur discussed with Anderson earlier this month about the possibility of a sculpture for the hotel.

Chodur told Anderson via email Jan. 20 G8 would gladly work with the city's sculpture committee. Anderson, in a follow-up email to Santizo, said Gatehouse Capital — the hotel developer the city had previously been negotiating for months — gave the city a "budget" of $35,000 to $40,000 for a "music"-themed sculpture.

"I don't know that we'll need to take this up specifically, as we've kept contingencies pretty high level with financing and development and/or operating agreements," Santizo wrote in a response to Anderson.

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