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CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Forest City Winnebago


Renderings of the new Mason City multipurpose arena were recently revealed.

Mason City breaks ground on multipurpose arena (with photos)

MASON CITY | After five-plus years, numerous delays, multiple developers, continual pledges, countless meetings, threats of lawsuits, bidding issues and rent agreement amendments, city officials broke ground Monday afternoon on the downtown multi-purpose arena that will anchor the River City Renaissance project.

Mayor Bill Schickel, who led the event inside the former JCPenney building, said he wanted Mason City residents to come in from the cold and see what it looks like and "compare it 10 months from now when it's finished."

According to Schickel, there are three specific areas that getting the arena built will help to address: jobs, taxes and the example "we're" setting.

He said at the groundbreaking that having such an arena will help to "attract, keep and retain the kind of workforce we need to fill the already 1,000 jobs that are available here." 

As for taxes, Schickel asserted that the "$38 million investment in our community" would "boost everyone." "More property taxes being paid downtown reduces the burden on everyone else," Schickel said.

Schickel also said that re-purposing a "deteriorating mall" represented a proactive example for communities in similar situations. 

"We're setting a shining example of preserving our past while preparing for the future," Schickel said (hearkening back to a line from his 2019 State of the City address). 

He asserted that such continual movement on such a large and lengthy undertaking is "necessary to ensure the vibrant future of our downtown."

Visit Mason City's Lindsey James echoed that point and said that $100 million in travel dollars came to Mason City in 2017 (per a U.S. Travel Association economic impact study). 

"Tourism is the No. 1 industry for small business," James said.

"The addition of the full-service hotel, conference center, performing arts pavilion and this multipurpose arena will undoubtedly enhance quality of life, expand upon the economic prosperity of our area and increase our potential to promote Mason City as a tourism destination."

Gatehouse Mason City LLC was approved 5-1 for a pre-development agreement by the Mason City Council back in November but, as of now, there isn't a hotelier locked in for the multi-million dollar project. 

Still Mason City Foundation President Dalena Barz is hopeful that that particular piece of the puzzle will soon lock into place.

"We have every confidence in Gatehouse Development," Barz said. "We're working closely with them on the plans for the Music Man Complex. The hotel and conference center are key components of the River City Renaissance."

Mason City Councilman Will Symonds, one of the 150 or so people in attendance, said that it's "good to see progress" and is both happy and relieved that things are gaining momentum.

"We've had so many stumbles through the project that I'm glad we're finally moving forward," Symonds remarked. "I'm excited to see the doors open. I'm excited to see what it can bring to the city. The project that was given to the taxpayers will come to fruition."

One taxpayer at the event was Cindy Dirks.

Dirks, who serves as vice president of the Mason City Kennel Club, said she was more than a little bit chilly being out at Southbridge Mall but happy for the community to have the project even though it meant losing more stores. 

"In a way, for me personally, it's gonna be sad to lose another clothing store," Dirks said. "It's exciting and a thrill but it's too bad we're losing more stores in the community."

The long, winding road of Mason City's downtown project

Dalrymple keeps North Iowa Performing Arts and Leadership Series moving forward

MASON CITY | Lindsay Dalrymple has always known she wanted to be involved in the arts — music especially.

But she didn’t know there was a career outside being a teacher or a performer until she was hired at North Iowa Area Community College nearly five years ago.

“I took a chance, and Liz (Gales) took a chance on me and it’s just been a natural fit for me,” she said. “I’ve loved it.”

Dalrymple was hired as the college’s Performing Arts and Leadership Series assistant director in 2014 and she was promoted to executive director in August after Gales retired.

Dalrymple grew up in Maynard, a small Iowa town of 500 people about 90 miles southeast of Mason City.

“I knew pretty early on that I wanted to do something with music,” she said. “Teaching just kind of happened when I was in college.”

Dalrymple attended Waldorf College in Forest City, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education in 2005. She student taught in Mason City and Forest City before securing her first teaching job at Ventura Schools.

In 2011, Dalrymple took a 9-12 choral director position at Storm Lake, where she remained until returning to North Iowa in 2014 to marry her husband, Chris, and apply for the NIACC position.

In addition to her role at NIACC, she is a choir director at her church in Clear Lake, and she's the mother of a 1-year-old daughter, Eleanora.

“I do miss working with students, but I still get a little bit of that through what we do with our school shows,” she said. “I get to feel like I’m making a difference for them with the arts in that way.”

• My North Iowa Town: How Mason City works, lives and plays

The Performing Arts and Leadership Series, which runs from September to May, is responsible for bringing a variety of musicians, authors, comedians and productions for all ages to “enhance the quality of life in North Iowa.”

The 2018-19 lineup has featured Zak Ebrahim, “The Terrorist’s son” author; Marc Cohn, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter; and “Wild Kratts Live!” among others.

“We try to make sure we have something for everyone on our ticket,” Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple leads a small staff of at least three employees who together manage the current season’s shows, select the shows for the next Performing Arts and Leadership Series season and work with the community to find sponsors and partners to make it all happen.

“It really is a well-oiled machine that is just a lot of fun to be a part of that team,” she said.

The 2019-20 season, which will be announced in the spring, is Dalrymple’s first at the helm. Gales booked the current season.

“It is exciting, but there’s a little bit of fear when you do it because you’re booking everything that you think is right for the community, and then, in May, you have to tell them what you booked and you have to hope that they like it,” she said, noting she’s come across a few surprises for next season’s series.

Dalrymple said she was blessed to work with — and learn from — Gales, “the best mentor I could have.”

“I just feel nothing but support from the college and everyone involved to make sure going forward that this continues to be successful for North Iowa,” she said.

Mason City Council looks to push back Central Heights paving issue again

MASON CITY | In 1990, the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED) awarded $600,000 in the form of a Community Development Block Grant to Mason City with a local match of $113,889.

The money, specifically, was to be spent on: street paving, storm sewer installation, demolition, house rehabilitation and code enforcement all within the section of Mason City referred to as Central Heights.

Central Heights residents wonder what ever happened to their paved streets

As of February 5, 2019, 29 years after the block grant was awarded, potholes and puddles still dot the landscape of Central Heights. 

According to prior Globe reporting: The state no longer has any record of that contract. And the city applied for further funding for Central Heights in fiscal years 1992 and 1993, presumably to finish the projects, but the funding requests were denied.

At a city council meeting in January, to discuss potential property assessments for Central Heights residents that would be used to pay for street improvements, the city council decided to push the issue back to its February 5 meeting. 

But, per the preview agenda, Mason City council's looking to push action on the issue back until its March 5 meeting. 

City Administrator Aaron Burnett said that the council has several options it could deliberate on and pursue and such a move will "give them time to provide guidance to the staff on next steps."

"With several possible actions, it is not clear exactly which route we should pursue as staff until we hear from them at the meeting tomorrow," Burnett said.

Mike Wollner lives in the area and was assessed $34,563.65.

Wollner and his wife have lived on a corner lot of Central Heights for several years and he has a catalog of all the rough patches in the neighborhood. 

No curb and gutter on South Taft Avenue. Storm water not flowing into intakes at: the 1400 block of South Hoover Avenue, the center half of the 2700 block of 16th Street SW, the 1500 through 1700 blocks of South Coolidge Avenue.

The locations are all listed out in pages and pages of notes sitting on Wollner's wood kitchen table. Along with how many inches of gravel are papering over the old blacktop (four to eight inches, depending on the street) and older quotes on grading costs from Heartland Asphalt ($22,000).

He's done his homework. And he sees a silver lining in the city council taking just a little longer to resolve a decades-old, neighborhood-wide problem.

"The good news is they're still thinking," Wollner said.

"But what are they going to come up with?"