Tourism in Mason City may seem like an anomaly to some, and yet it's true — visitors from all around the globe travel to Mason City every day to visit our unique and award-winning attractions! The most recent report from the U.S. Travel Association for the State of Iowa shows visitor spending in the state totaled more than $8 billion in 2015, and $95.4 million of that spending occurred right here, in Mason City! Cerro Gordo County is ranked No. 11 in the state for the amount of visitor spending compared to the other 98 counties in Iowa. There’s no denying it – we’ve got tourism, right here in River City!

We have a lot to be proud of. Sites such as the Historic Park Inn Hotel, Music Man Square, Stockman House, and the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum offer experiences that can only be found here, in our community. What’s more, these attractions are of great interest to people from all over the world. Just last year, the Mason City Visitor Information Center welcomed nearly 4,500 guests from all over the U.S. and 12 foreign countries. Since opening in 2011, the Historic Park Inn has welcomed thousands of guests from all 50 states and more than 50 countries.

Tourism is vital to our community. When visitors come to town, they’re not only staying in hotels and visiting attractions. These guests to our community are also shopping in local stores, dining in local restaurants, and attending local events. Every dollar spent supports local businesses and generates local option sales tax ($0.01 collected on every dollar) for the city’s general fund.

“The Music Man” and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture are our community’s largest claims to fame, and it just so happens that the two largest attractions that bring visitors to town are located within the heart of our downtown.

The proposed River City Renaissance Project perfectly complements Visit Mason City’s mission – to attract, retain, and expand visitor spending. Since 2015, Visit Mason City has recommended the project include meeting/convention space with capacity to accommodate groups of 500 or more. This number was (and still is) based on customer demand. Since 2010, Visit Mason City has tracked more than $4 million in lost visitor spending from events we do not have facilities to accommodate.

The development of a downtown hotel and conference center will enable us to meet the demands of event planners seeking a full-service venue in Mason City, while also preserving Meredith Willson’s legacy in a new museum. The multipurpose arena will allow us to expand within the sports tourism market as well, an industry that continues to grow year after year, while also providing new entertainment and recreation opportunities. The performing arts pavilion will provide a much-needed indoor/outdoor venue to accommodate events and festivals, as well as a permanent home for the Mason City Municipal Band.

Prioritizing investments in quality of life amenities, such as these, that attract visitors will not only make our community a more desirable destination for tourism, but will better position us to compete for new business, corporate relocations, and a talented workforce.

In fact, for the first time in North American history, quality of life is leading economic development. Tourism is the front door to our community’s efforts to attract new business and new residents. Site selectors, real estate agents, investors, people looking for opportunities don’t just pick a spot on a map and move there. They come first to visit. Their experience as a visitor, and the amenities they find here will influence whether or not they choose to return, and stay.

Quality of life amenities and tourism go hand-in-hand. On Nov. 7, you have the opportunity to help Mason City thrive and grow by attracting more tourists and tourism dollars to our community instead of somewhere else. Your vote counts. I encourage you to vote yes for tourism and yes for community growth.

Lindsey James is director of Visit Mason City.

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