City’s grit on building is a good sign

A message of sorts was sent to city residents late Friday afternoon. Mayor Matt Mohrfeld is putting the city’s money where his mouth is.

Mohrfeld gave a full-throated response to a question from City Councilman Mark Lair asking for an update on the progress of repairs to the Humphrey building in downtown.

The building has been undergoing some sort of repairs externally and, supposedly internally, after city officials saw structural sagging that eventually gave way blowing some exterior brick facing from the building onto a sidewalk, the city had already cordoned off.

Now, a 1/2 city block has been barricated off for the past three months and business owners in the area are starting to clamor for something to be done.

Mohrfeld responded to Lair saying the current condition of the building was unacceptable.

“This cannot be the face of our community. We can’t be held hostage by one irresponsible property owner. It’s not right.” he said in response.

On Friday, Mohrfeld informed Pen City Current via email that the city had started legal proceedings against the building’s property owner, Bryan J. Humphrey of Fort Madison.

Humphrey has had crews shoring up the exterior of the building and it is assumed that work is also being done to shore up the column that collapsed inside as well. However, Mohrfeld said city officials do not know where progress is at on those repairs.

In his email Friday, the mayor said he hopes to have a trial date set in the next 90 days to have a Lee County judge intervene in the matter. The city would likely be represented by Lynch-Dallas out of Cedar Rapids.

Since Mohrfeld was appointed to the City Council in August of 2018 his voice has risen to the top of discussions. His seasoning as a former Lee County Supervisor, coupled with various other local positions on non-profit boards, and even a governor’s board appointment, has been paying dividends for the city in the past 18 months.

He even flexed his political muscle a little in an emotional battle over golf carts and ATVs on city streets. We’ve yet to see one. Seriously. Not one.

But it should put a smile on most faces to see the city pushing here. That’s one of the biggest structures downtown. Kyle Galloway and Barker Financial came in and put $4 million into renovating properties downtown and have a right to expect a return on that investment. The behavior of the city and other property owners impacts that return.

Just a quick look at the investment going on downtown, and you can go back to Griffin’s Muffler & Brake rebuilding on the corner after the fire. Then you get the Fox Theater, Dollhouse Dreams and Megan’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream, Velocity Dance, Olive Branch Jiu Jitsu, the upper apartment renovations, and all the new services moving in.

And most recently the investment in the former Bentler Rental building that now has commercial space being leased and Southeastern Community College’s $500,000 investment in the former CarSmart property.

These folks are smart with money and they see something happening in downtown Fort Madison. It’s comforting that the city seems at this point to be ‘getting their back’.

We all can and do hope the city and Humphrey can bring this to a resolution without spending too much to force the issue, but as millennials love to say, “It is what it is.”

Mohrfeld’s been…well….barking about the city getting a dog park. It’s in the budget for 2020-21 proposed to go in at rodeo park’s old baseball diamond.

He doesn’t believe that the city’s financial picture is as bleak as it may seem, but instead chooses to look at financial stewardship and tough decisions to bring this back into focus.

He’s changed the format of the city council meetings randomly moving people, including City Manager David Varley who has sat at the right arm of the mayor for at least the past three years, to different chairs to generate different conversations.

He brought the now gender neutral Boy Scouts of America in to present colors at his first meeting and he’s asking department heads to rotate in giving deeper dives on what’s happening internally.

We think it’s a start of something different in how things are done at City Hall. There’s no comparative here to his predecessor Brad Randolph. Randolph’s impact on the city, in our opinion, is still yet to be fully realized.

Mohrfeld even got a gift from Randolph at the mayor’s first meeting. A red phone that may or may not dial the former mayor’s number. There’s little doubt, however, that that number will be used.

As we watch from the side as Mohrfeld makes his way through meetings with the movers and shakers in Fort Madison, it could just be the newness of the position and that early energy.

But if you look at Mohfeld’s business, his commitment to area swimmers and runners, boards, commissions, you can see he’s all in. The real indicator may be that he may have chosen a local elected post over a state one.

We give him good marks at the outset. There will be tests for sure and it remains to be seen what grades he gets as we move forward. But showing some teeth on this building thing is a good indication.

Andrew Breitbart said ‘Politics is downstream of culture’. Mohrfeld, at first blush anyway, is rowing pretty hard upstream.

Speaking of politics, the three area elected officials to the state legislature met in Fort Madison on Friday and talked about issues facing the legislature this year. It would appear that the collection of online sales tax is happening, but the companies paying are under no federal mandate to do so. That’s odd…. and Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of the Pen City Current and can be reached at

1 thought on “City’s grit on building is a good sign

  1. Dog park? Really we need one?
    i see more dogs in the parks we already have than kids.i think we have roads that need fixed before another park.

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