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They tell me the best way to catch a porcupine is to grab a barrel. That will give you something to sit on while you figure out your next move.

Here’s hoping city officials don’t find themselves sitting on a barrel as the deadline approaches this month for complying with conditions to receive $9.1 million in state money for the River City Renaissance project.

Tick, tock; tick, tock. The clock is ticking.

City officials remain confident that all contingencies set by the state will be met. This an enormous project for the city – a hotel, a skywalk connecting the hotel to The Music Man Square complex; a conference center inside the Square; an ice arena/multipurpose center in the vacated J.C. Penney property inside the mall; and a music pavilion in the Federal Avenue plaza at the north entrance to the mall.

The state money is the hinge for the overall project cost of about $38 million. And the hotel fulfills a state requirement of having at least $10 million in private investment in the project. But if the state money is denied, the entire project dies.

What are its chances? I’m reminded of something former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during a stop in Mason City two years ago. Asked if she considered herself an optimist or a pessimist, she said, “I’m an optimist – but I worry a lot.”

All of this is old news to most of you and probably pretty confusing to the rest of you. The city recently provided an update on how things stand with the various contingencies and has pledged to provide weekly updates. The latest one was posted by Councilman Tom Thoma on his Facebook page. Here is a summary of what it says.

• By May 18, the city must provide to the Iowa Economic Development Authority proof that construction financing has been secured for the hotel. A local bank is now involved in the discussions and other lenders have expressed interest. Also, the USDA in Des Moines is considering being a guarantor to one of the lenders.

• By May 18, the IEDA needs proof of a development agreement between the city and the Mason City Foundation for development of The Music Man Square Conference Center and museum. A final draft of that agreement is near completion with a public hearing planned for May 15.

• By Dec. 31, the state wants proof of a performance and payment bond on the hotel. This should be a formality if the May 18 deadlines are met.

• By Dec. 31, there must be proof that construction has begun on the skywalk. City officials say WHKS Engineers has already submitted preliminary plans.

• By Dec. 31, lease agreements must be in place for the ice arena and music pavilion at Southbridge Mall. City officials have expressed confidence in meeting the deadline, though they say they sometimes have had trouble contacting mall ownership.

If all goes well, the River City Renaissance project will heighten the vibrancy of Mason City for generations to come. If it doesn’t go well, it will heighten the despair that a lot of people already have for a city that they think just doesn’t quite get the job done. Roll out the barrels.

I’m going to stay optimistic – but I’ll worry a lot.

Tick, tock; tick, tock.

John Skipper retired from the Globe Gazette in February 2018 after 52 years in newspapers, most of that in Mason City covering North Iowa government and politics.


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