I am happy to report the state of the city is good as we begin a new year filled with promise.
No question, the past year had its challenges. But it was also a time of accomplishment:
We hired Aaron Burunett as city administrator. And Fire Chief Erik Bullinger, along with 26 other new hires.
Eight businesses have been upgraded, eight neighborhoods improved. This was made possible by our small business loan plan.
Our neighborhoods are safer because of the city’s new fireworks ordinance.
Driving is safer because of highway improvements.
Our community is cleaner due to strong code enforcement.
The city responded quickly to major flooding this summer. We immediately launched our long term flood mitigation plan.
Our economic development team is working with ten active business prospects. They have a potential of creating 1,000 new jobs.
Tourism topped $100 million for the first time. A re-energized Main Street Mason City is revitalizing downtown. The Chamber finished three “Building Our Brand” murals. Alliant Energy is placing all utilities underground in the Commercial Alley neighborhood.
In April we launched Vision North Iowa, a strategy for community prosperity.
The Government Finance Officers Association again awarded Mason City the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
After 27 years of waiting, Central Heights is on the verge of having paved streets.
The biggest accomplishment has admittedly been the most frustrating. But we have finally lifted River City Renaissance out of the ditch and back on the road to success.
In recent days your city council has:
Hired architects to design and coordinate building a state-of-the-art multipurpose arena. ICON Architectural Group, of Grand Forks, North Dakota, has designed similar facilities throughout the Midwest.
Hired Gatehouse Capital as the developer of a new Music Man Square hotel and conference center. Again, they have built similar facilities across the country.
City staff and the architects have been meeting regularly with all of our project partners: Mason City Youth Hockey, North Iowa Figure Skating, The North Iowa Bulls, Music Man Square, Southbridge Mall, the Performing Arts Pavilion Committee and NIACC, among others.
Private investment by the developer will pay almost 40 percent. A state grant will pay an additional 25 percent. The balance of 35 percent will be paid with the new property taxes the plan will generate. There will be no new taxes if it is successful. And I believe it will be.
Why are we doing this? One reason is Mason City’s continuing decline in population. The first thing companies looking to relocate or expand ask about is a work force. If we continue to lose working age people, we won’t have enough workers. Our Vision North Iowa strategy puts it this way: The to key turning this around is to “champion...placemaking projects. The kind that...create needed community amenities for young workers and families.”
So the New Year is indeed filled with promise. Our 2019 priorities should include:
• Groundbreaking for the River City multipurpose arena by February at the latest with completion by the end of the year.
• Putting the river back in River City. We can do this by implementing the Willow Creek Master Plan. The beautiful river that flows through downtown was made famous in The Music Man. The area has more potential today than ever.
• Continuing efforts to address blighted property. Success will deliver safer neighborhoods, better housing and increased tax revenue.
Bigger cities are too often high-cost, congested and overrated. Mason City, on the other hand, is the up-and-coming, low-cost, high quality of life location for workers and families.
We have everything we need to make 2019 the year of promise. Let’s get to work on making that promise a reality.
Bill Schickel is the mayor of Mason City. This guest column was adapted from his annual State of the City speech at the city council meeting on Jan. 2.