BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – City Councilman Mark Lair hasn’t decided if he’s going to run for another term on the council next year.
But if he doesn’t he wants to know if the city’s new marina will be done before he goes. Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld answered succinctly.
“Yes,” Mohrfeld said.
“How bout that for an answer. If you don’t have target you’ll never hit it. So we set a target and it’s a good plan.”
At Tuesday’s Fort Madison City Council meeting, Connection Bank President Matt Morris and Lee County Economic Development Group President Dennis Fraise, pitched the council on the idea of what many are calling a 5-star marina on the city’s riverfront.
Mohrfeld and Fraise are part of a 16-member committee that has been preparing the proposal for the past nine months.
“I’ve said this before. We are not going to apologize for having a 5-star marina in Fort Madison,” Mohrfeld said.
The project has been put together in just over a year and will require about $6 million to get it done.
Mohrfeld said Tuesday that will involve a $1.5 million ask from the city. If the city approves the spend, that will trigger private investments that could double and eventually triple the city’s investment with the remainder potentially coming from other funding sources including profits, as well as potential state and federal grants.
The project initially involves dredging the marina, which is already being planned for this fall, repairing and raising the jetty wall approximately five feet to take it out of the 500-year flood plain, brand new docks and boat slips to accommodate additional boaters. Two of the docks would be covered docks.
Future plans include raising the north road out of the 500-year-flood plain.
Plans also include a new hospitality center with new amenities, fuel and convenience items, food and beverage services, additional repairs to the marina wall, and upgraded parking services.
The project is being planned as a public-private partnership with both for-profit and non-profit entities involved with several lease relationships.
Proceeds from the new dock and slip rental, with a goal of 110 new docks, would be used to maintain the new docks and dredging as needed. The higher jetty wall would reduce the silt that currently settles in the marina causing boater issues.
The plan would include for about half of the docks to be covered.
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker was also part of the committee and encouraged the council to support the project.
“I’m really excited about the project and I think we have enough manpower and brainpower on this committee to make this happen. And I believe the council will support the forward movement,” Bowker said.
“To vote against it would be a negative, negative thing.”
Bowker said it was imperative that the public has access to the docks and the marina, and it not become a yacht club type of venture.
Lair said he was hesitant – but supports the project.
“I want to move cautiously, real cautiously,” he said.
He said the city is already bonded $19 million on the sewer treatment plant and $6 million in sewer separation costs.
Mohrfeld said he sees the city coming up with the $1.5 million by either bonding for the money or borrowing from the Highway 61 fund and then bonding to finish the highway renovation. The city would also be eligible for FEMA reimbursements for some of the project upgrades around flooding mitigation and repairs.
He said he didn’t want to get to deep into the financing but said the bond wouldn’t have to go in front of voters. The city can bond up to $700,000 on a project like this, and he could see the whole project having three different individual projects.
“There are other avenues, we could link it to other community improvement projects. We could use Avenue H funds for right now, fully fund it and kick the can down the road. We have to bond to finish that project, so tack it on to there. That would be real simple,” the mayor said.
Councilman Chad Cangas said the city has a tight budget and people will growl. He cited the success of Riverfest and then the blighted area on the east side as a reason to keep moving.
“The whole end of that parking lot people can be using. Right now we got 25% of the riverfront that’s basically a slum. There’s nothing there, it’s falling apart and it looks like crap,” Cangas said.
Councilman Tom Schulz quipped, “And we own it.”
Schulz said the city would be “absolutely insane” not to promote doing something if it was even close to being revenue neutral.
Cangas said he didn’t like the idea of spending the money, but with American Cruise Lines coming in when things open up again, and the success of Riverfest, the city needs to finish the appeal of the riverfront.
Councilman Rusty Andrews gave the most pointed reaction to the project.
“As the City of Fort Madison we suck at running a marina. And this is our chance not to suck at running a marina,” he said.
Mohrfeld said the discussion was a vision discussion and then went around the room for an informal thumbs up or down. He got thumbs up from all seven councilmembers.
He said the $6 million has to happen to make the project go.
“There’s seven phases and this is four of them. There are three more down the road they want to do out of profits and grants,” he said.
“But it has to have water, it has to have the jetty wall, it has to have docks and it has to have the hospitality center. That’s the house of cards. You pull out one card and it falls.”
He said the city needs to be looking at a sustainable 5-star marina for the next 50 years.
Fraise and Morris outlined how the marina would increase local sales tax revenue, while providing a quality of life improvement, increase tourism, help retain residents, and continue to showcase the forward movement of the community.
No formal action was taken on the project, but the council will have to take formal action at one point to direct the funding.