Community development doesn’t just happen. It is the charge of business and community leaders to continuously look for opportunities and potential threats to economic growth. The most significant challenges to Mason City and the North Iowa region stem from our shrinking population. Skilled workforce shortages and the realities of our demographic trends affect existing business, schools, communities, and prospects for new employers moving to our area. Quality of life is the key factor to retaining our youth and attracting new employers.
As part of the Vision North Iowa strategic planning process, citizens have brainstormed several questions related to the River City Renaissance Development proposal:
• How do we make sure North Iowa is the kind of place people want to live?
• Downtown Mason City is transformed…but is it finished? How can we make Downtown Mason City more “celebration-ready” to better accommodate entertainment and festivals?
• Southbridge Center has been limping along for several years. Across the country, communities are “reinventing” their shopping malls to remain relevant. How can Southbridge (an important community asset) be re-purposed to remain an important source of property tax?
• The North Iowa Arena is in dire need of replacing its sheet of ice. Repurposing the J.C. Penney space in Southbridge as a multipurpose arena is a bold plan. How can we help to make sure this plan is a success?
This exercise in “What if…” generated some great ideas and enthusiasm. As plans for a new downtown hotel progressed, it became apparent it was time for Mason City to get in line with a serious proposal for the Iowa Reinvestment Act program from the State of Iowa. When the original hotel deal fell through, opening up the process to other hoteliers was the right thing to do. Renovating a portion of The Music Man Square as a conference center was the right thing to do, too. State officials like our plan, and are ready to invest up to $10 million in it. Mason City’s application was chosen for funding amidst stiff competition from other communities.
Clearly, a lot of hard work is still ahead. As with the Vision Iowa Project, this proposal will no doubt confront challenges and obstacles that must be overcome by working together. It isn’t a perfect plan, but if we keep moving forward, we can keep improving it. Mason City has emerged as one of Iowa’s “can do” communities.
The proposed hotel, conference center, museum, skywalk, and re-purposed space within Southbridge Mall will generate sales tax, lodging tax, and increase property values. In addition, this proposal will fill several clearly articulated community needs: additional downtown hotel rooms; a performance venue for the municipal band; a permanent “rain site” for downtown entertainment; a redesign of the mall’s Plaza entrance more in keeping with our brand as an architectural destination; and a new arena to accommodate ice sports that will also convert to a venue for sports tournaments, trade shows, concerts, etc.
Now is the time to make an investment in our future. I hope you’ll join me in voting yes and yes for the River City Renaissance project.
"The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do."
Sarah Ban Breathnah
Kelly Hansen is the general manager at POET Biorefining in Hanlontown and board chair of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce.