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Chris O'Meara, AP 

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, left, strips the ball from Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald during the first half of the Outback Bowl on Tuesday in Tampa, Fla.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

A woman walks through the nearly empty east wing of Southbridge Mall in Mason City. 

Twists, turns and lawsuits: Mason City's 2018 roller coaster with the River City Renaissance Project

The labyrinthine saga for Mason City's River City Renaissance project in 2018 was one marked by renewed expressions of hope, shunting of blame, lawsuits and threats of lawsuits, funding approvals, deferred action, city council votes, defaults, reemergence of "familiar names" and more deferred action.

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

The River City Renaissance began 2018 with Mayor Bill Schickel expressing support for the then current G8 Development plan in his state of the city address and "ended" with the city council approving by a 5-1 vote to enter into a pre-development agreement with Gatehouse Mason City LLC. In between there were numerous contours which are outlined below.


Mayor Schickel reaffirmed that he had commitment to keep the G8 River City Renaissance project "on track, on time and on budget," despite initially advocating for the competing Gatehouse plan. That same week, G8 Development (a San Diego-based development company owned by Philip Chodur) dropped a lawsuit against the city in relation to an earlier hotel proposal that had fallen through. 

Here's everything you need to know about Mason City's River City Renaissance Project

In an email later that month, Chodur accused three community members of "underhanded self-serving dealing" and suggested that they should "be benched." At issue then was whether or not G8 was in full compliance with the development agreement for the downtown hotel, which Chodur claimed it was while the city argued otherwise.

Photos: Southbridge Mall in its heyday

Two days later, the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board deferred action ("until further notice") on Mason City's request for up to $10 million to help leverage the city's $38 million downtown project and set a June 30 deadline for Mason City to meet its money requirements. 


"Finally," was the prevailing sentiment among Mason City leaders the morning of Feb. 16 when the city's $38 million project received final approval for more than $9 million in state financial assistance. At that time, the twinned deadlines were for the city to lock down hotel financing by May and to have a fully operational hotel to show for all of the effort by Dec. 31, 2019. 

Photos: Downtown Mason City before demolition for Southbridge Mall


As spring began, the River City Renaissance project continued humming along with an approval that gave the city the ability to reimburse the hotel developer up to $500,000 in pre-construction costs. 

Photos: Mason City's Historic Park Inn through the years


Clouds of uncertainty started dotting the horizon with a late-April realization that Mason City was in danger of not meeting contingencies established by the state’s economic development board. When the city was awarded the aforementioned $9 million in state tax relief, it was tasked with having a final development agreement and proof of financing by May 28. Mayor Schickel was chief among those expressing concern, saying "opportunities maybe disguised as insurmountable challenges."


On May 15, Byline Bank was revealed as the lending group for the downtown hotel in the River City Renaissance project in a letter sent to IEDA Program Manager Alaina Santizo. Mason City's Director of Development Services Steven Van Steenhuyse, who sent the letter, also made clear that the loan wasn't finalized but the steps taken by Byline were "positive."

That same day, Mason City Council members unanimously passed two changes to the River City Renaissance project. One moved the proposed hotel to the north in the Southbridge Mall parking lot (which would save money in storm sewer work) and the other solidified a plan to renovate Meredith Wilson Museum while building and connecting a convention center/ballroom space to the south of Music Man Square.


G8 Development managed to secure financing for a hotel loan in the River City Renaissance project. That announcement by Chodur, which would've satisfied a financial assistance contingency, was seen as yet another "step in the right direction" and had both city officials and IEDA board members expecting paperwork to be ready for an Aug. 17 meeting.

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


Instead, less than a month later, IEDA added a default contingency involving an agreement between Mason City and G8 Development. Ways in which the developer could default included G8 failing to start hotel construction in a timely manner or G8 filing for bankruptcy. However, timelines for such an action weren't entirely clear and the city continued to work with Chodur on meeting the contingencies. 


The tempo began to quicken in September when Chodur was given 45 days to show full proof of financing for the hotel or face default. Chodur had given book-ending pages of a financial agreement in the July announcement but anything more substantive in between was wholly absent.

At the time, Mason City Administrator Aaron Burnett affirmed that "The IEDA Board members continue to support the project regardless of the developer, but wanted to see progress, and that progress is notice of default and pushing for a resolution if financing will be provided within that 45-day cure."

Here's everything you need to know about Mason City's River City Renaissance Project


Nearly a month after the notice Mason City was treated to the threat of a lawsuit, from an attorney representing Philip Chodur, over the default proclamation. Stephen Fitch, of Fitch Law Firm in San Diego, told the city in a letter that "Any continued action of the city as to declaring G8 in default under the (Purchase, Sale and Development Agreement) would constitute a breach by the city of its obligation under the (agreement)." 

Just days after the Globe made the letter widely public, Mason City Council unanimously approved a resolution to terminate its Purchase, Sale and Development agreement with G8 Development, a little more than five years after Chodur first pitched a hotel deal. 


With the G8 termination, a familiar face in Gatehouse Capital reappeared in the River City Renaissance fracas. In the state board's monthly meeting to provide updates on the $39 million plan, City Administrator Burnett stated that "Gatehouse has contacted the city, and the city is talking to them" but declined to say whether or not other developers were also expressing interest. 

If there were additional developers interested, they were elbowed out at month's end when the city council voted 5-1 on Nov. 27 to approve a pre-development agreement with Gatehouse and unanimously approved an architectural contract with ICON Architectural Group of Grand Forks, North Dakota, for a multipurpose arena at Southbridge Mall. 

After the decision, Lionel Foster, a Mason City resident and former city employee, summed up the vote in particular and the year of River City Renaissance develops as well as anyone by saying "What I’m trying to do is encourage the city council to give a little more attention … I don’t want you to leave a debt on the taxpayers of Mason City if this project falls on its face."

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

Photos: Southbridge Mall in its heyday

Photos: Southbridge Mall in its heyday

Photos: Downtown Mason City before demolition for Southbridge Mall

Photos: Downtown Mason City before demolition for Southbridge Mall

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

Mason City Mayor Bill Schickel adjourns the city council's special meeting to terminate the city's development agreement with G8 Development at City Hall in October.

Work continues on Britt bank building

BRITT | After the First State Bank moved to a new building in 1980, the old bank building went through a series of owners.

After nearly 40 years, the City was close to have the building demolished when the BRITT Group stepped in and took possession.

If it were not for the group, an irreplaceable part of Britt’s history would have been lost and the most historical building, located on north west corner of Center and Main, would now be a vacant lot.

Thus far, the BRITT Group has been made over $61,000 in repairs to the bank building.

The most significant repairs have included making permanent repairs to the roof, adding a power source to support the use of power tools, providing lighting for current and future workers, adding a new main drain from the roof to the first floor, and making permanent repairs to the north and west walls.

Also, the BRITT Group had the surrounding property graded and filled to make the area a little more pleasing.

The BRITT Group is continuing to hold fundraisers and work on their plan to restore the exterior of the old bank building first.

It has been determined the most critical need at this time is to replace the second story windows. In addition to the actual window replacements, the windowsills need to be reset and work is needed to repair some of the brick window framing.

While work is being done on the exterior, the interior is not being forgotten.

Currently, the BRITT Group is continuing to work on clearing the interior of dirt and debris. Much has already been cleared from the first and second stories, but the basement still needs work, and eventually old plaster and other materials will have to be removed.

In 2018, a small group of Iowa State University (ISU) design students completed two potential designs for the interior. These will be on display during the BRITT Group’s fundraisers in 2019. 

Donations to help save the old bank can be sent to: The BRITT Group, P.O. Box 93, Britt, IA 50423.

Ashley Stewart / ASHLEY STEWART, News-Tribune 

An employee of Ken Kaiser Restoration of Des Moines repairs the exterior of the old bank building in Britt. The exterior work began in mid-September of 2017. The restoration of the building on Main Avenue is being led by the BRITT Group.

Mason City pursuit ends with two arrests; driver hits two parked cars, two houses

MASON CITY | One woman was arrested Monday afternoon after refusing to stop for law enforcement and later hitting two parked cars and two houses with the truck she was driving, according to the Mason City Police.

Sidney Kristine Garcia, 21, of Mason City, was charged with Failure to Maintain Control, No Driver’s License, No Insurance and Eluding a Police Officer.  She was uninjured.

Her passenger, however, a 29-year-old Mason City man, was transported to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa. Terry L. Arp was later "taken into custody for outstanding warrants."

Arp was injured in the accident and transported to Mercy with non-life threatening injuries.

The accident report from the Iowa State Patrol, which led the investigation, indicates the man was wearing a seat belt.

Mason City Police attempted to stop the 2000 Chevrolet pickup Garcia was driving about 12:43 p.m. near Fifth Street Southeast and South Vermont.

Officials say Garcia accelerated until Seventh Street Southeast and South Vermont, where she struck the first parked vehicle. She hit the second parked car in a driveway on Seventh Street Southeast.

Officials say they followed Garcia as she drove east before she struck two houses on the 900 block of Seventh Street Southeast.