On behalf of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce and its 660-plus member businesses which employ more than 16,000 North Iowans, we offer enthusiastic support for the River City Renaissance Project.
Mason City’s largest employers include Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa, the Mason City Community School District, Principal Financial Group-Pension Center, Curries-Graham, Cargill, and Kraft-Heinz Foods. “Placemaking” projects like this are a huge factor in recruiting professionals, executives, and workforce to these and other employers in our region.
A few years ago, the Iowa Chamber Alliance (the Mason City Chamber is an ICA member) drafted the Iowa Reinvestment Act legislation. Its purpose was to assist communities in “reinvesting” to create new tax base. Mason City’s original application was unsuccessful, but we tried again — and this time, we won favor with state officials in a highly-competitive application process that put our vision for reinvestment up against plans from communities across the state. In fact, our application scored so well that our award could be close to $10 million. However, these funds are contingent upon a 60 percent favorable vote on two ballot questions on Nov. 7.
This plan, while not perfect, addresses several key community needs with creative solutions to issues that have perplexed us for the past several years.
• The multi-purpose arena with capacity for up to 4,400 spectators (3,500 seats and 900 standing) is an excellent “repurpose” of the space in Southbridge that was formerly occupied by JC Penney. This is exactly the right size for North Iowa — neither an over or under-build.
• For years, the ice sports have shared tenancy of the North Iowa Arena with horse show organizations. Thanks to the success of both groups, there’s been a bit of a skirmish for arena use. By moving ice sports to the proposed arena, the North Iowa Event Center will have the opportunity to expand horse and livestock shows, ag expos, etc.
• The clever indoor/outdoor pavilion component will finally provide a performance venue for the Mason City Municipal Band. But it also serves to make us “celebration-ready” for the North Iowa Band Festival, Friday Night Live events, and other community gatherings.
• The interior performance space ensures that investments of time and resources for downtown events is never wasted, because we’ll have a permanent “in case of rain” site.
• Renovating the current museum in The Music Man Square for use as conference/event space to accommodate groups of 500-plus fills a critical need and will enable our community to host even more events. In addition, the increased revenue will put this important community asset on a path to sustainability.
• Building a new museum to display the impressive collection that documents the life and numerous achievements of native son Meredith Willson will provide the high-visibility these artifacts deserve.
• Finally, the new hotel will fill a huge gap in the downtown area. We desperately need additional hotel rooms to accommodate meetings and conferences already happening downtown. If you don’t believe me (or the recently-completed market study,) just try finding a hotel room in Mason City on a Tuesday night!
Getting a 60 percent favorable vote on the two ballot questions is a tall order. But I’m betting on Mason City citizens.
Just as they stepped forward a decade ago to approve the public library bond issue that was the linchpin for the Vision Iowa project, I think they’ll see the importance of voting YES and YES to move our community forward once again.
Robin Anderson is president and CEO of the Mason City Area Chamber of Commerce.