Tuesday night, the Mason City Council heard a pitch from David Rachie, one of the men who has been behind the ongoing downtown hotel development project, that would convert the existing mall space into a family entertainment center featuring: a bowling alley, a brewery from Iowa's Backpocket Brewing, go-karts, golf of some kind, a movie theater, a pizzeria by Gino's East out of Chicago and a sports bar by Iowa Hawkeyes announcer Gary Dolphin.
"This has been a day we’ve been waiting for for years. It’s been a long drudge to get here. This is such an exciting plan," First Ward Councilmember John Lee told Rachie during the council meeting.
According to Rachie, a big reason for the redevelopment plan is an interest in protecting the investment in the hotel which is yet to start construction.
"We were always excited to be associated with the mall, but as the years have gone on, we just saw the mall dying and thought that we can’t have a dead mall behind us," Rachie said. To change the equation, Rachie shared that this past Friday his group signed an agreement with the current mall owners to begin working on the redevelopment.
"The big idea in redeveloping the mall is really bringing it into downtown," Rachie said.
As a part of that, he told the council that his group intends to make the new family entertainment center fit in not only with surrounding buildings downtown but with with the Winnebago River and mitigation plans there. He said that his group actually even used a needs survey from Main Street Mason City as a sort of road map for deciding what to include in the project.
At one point during the discussion, Third Ward Councilmember Joshua Masson wanted to know how soon it would be before he could have a chance to eat pizza at the Gino's East establishment.
"Less than two years," Rachie said. He elaborated that the plan is to close on the mall within 90 days and close on the hotel before that.
For his time, Fourth Ward Councilmember John Jaszewski inquired whether or not the current Southbridge Mall name would stick around after the redevelopment. Rachie answered in the negative and then expanded further.
"Something like Hollywoodland (and then the name of the location) or something along those lines," Rachie said. He said that the plan is to have similar centers following the Hollywoodland theme in malls in other cities across the country as well.
"Thank you for your persistence with Mason City," At-Large Councilmember Paul Adams then said to close out the main discussion.
Before any such work can begin though, the City needs to amend its "Downtown Reinvestment Urban Renewal Plan" for any tax increment financing that would be needed. City Administrator Aaron Burnett said that the intent is to move forward on those plans as quickly as possible.
To facilitate that, the City Council unanimously approved setting a public hearing date of June 1 at 7 p.m. in the Mason City Room of the Mason City Public Library to discuss the amendment.
Along with the Southbridge redevelopment plans, the City also hopes that an amendment to the plan will also make it possible to construct an innovation center hub for downtown Mason City as well as a redevelopment of certain properties considered to be old or outdated.
Although the prospect of a downtown family entertainment center dominated the council's discussion on Tuesday night, it was from the only major undertaking city officials weighed in on.
The six-panel council unanimously decided to award a contract of $1,648,000 to Henkel Construction to build a downtown skywalk that would connect the forthcoming hotel and conference center to The Music Man Square. Before voting on the item, Councilmember Masson asked Burnett if any and all points of contention between The Music Man Square and the hotel had been resolved.
"We have the agreement supported by all of the attorneys and all of the boards. They’ve all agreed to the management form. That’ll be coming before the council at the next meeting," Burnett said. "There was a lot of discussion that went into making sure everyone was happy with it."
In the six-figure price range, the city council voted 6-0 to set a bid opening date of May 26 to do dam mitigation work on the Winnebago River. According to a cost estimate from Mason City Operations and Maintenance Manager Bill Stangler, work on a dam south of 12th Street Northeast in Mason City is projected to cost about $650,000 and be completed by November 2021.
Stangler noted in a memo to Burnett, found in the city council packet, that a $312,500 grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is helping to cover costs related to the mitigation efforts which, at the 12th Street Northeast site, involve building so-called "rock weirs" to slow water flow.
Farther along 12th Street Northeast, over Ideal Creek, the city is looking to replace a bridge first constructed in 1920 and then reconstructed in 1961 according to Mason City Engineer Mark Rahm. As the first in that process, city council members all voted to approve a professional services agreement with local firm WHKS to the tune of $29,8000.
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Jared McNett covers local government for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at Jared.McNett@globegazette.com or by phone at 641-421-0527. Follow Jared on Twitter at @TwoHeadedBoy98.