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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."

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