Marina project adds to burgeoning riverfront – Opinion


Social media this week’s been abuzz with observers watching the city’s handling of proposed $6 million Fort Madison Marina project, that will, according to Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld, ultimately almost double in price to about $11 million when all’s said and done.

Mohrfeld is on record as saying he’s buying the first beer at the new marina that he says will be open, but maybe not totally completed, by April 1, 2022.

The new project brings in four new dock structures, two of which will be covered, a move that brings more quality of life to the boaters who rent those slips.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is back on board with helping mitigate some of the heavy silting that’s occurred inside the marina. Not only are they back on board with helping resolve the flood-caused rising of the floor of the river, but they are looking at taking extra silt out to create possibly four feet of water in the dock area, which is attractive to those wanting to build boat lifts at the docks.

The new jetty wall, uhh…pier that is being planned will be built out further into the river and will be constructed to allow a walking path and tables to possible be included in 5Ks that run up and down the river.

The public/private motor that is being planned to operate the marina, gets turned over with a key from the City of Fort Madison. A $1.5 million key to be exact. That will be tax money for sure. Whether the city borrows from an internal fund such as the Highway 61 rehabilitation fund, or some other mechanism, it will have to be paid back and that will come with a bond. The city approved a resolution supporting that spend at a meeting Thursday.

People ware complaining that cost is too high and they want the roads fixed. It’s a bit disingenuous to not see the extra money the city has been putting into the budget at least the past five years to improve city roads. Avenue E by the library, 24th Street, 6th to 10th Street on Hwy. 61 to name a few. Improvements have been on the eastern side of the city on Avenue G and 4th. But it’s not enough. Not nearly enough, It’s hard to ignore however that they are moving as quickly as funds will allow.

That’s coming from a news group that sits in on all city meetings and reports on budgets. The tax payer money being spent on roads is increasing and the overlay program has addressed many streets. In other words, seeing is believing.

But two of the most prominent street improvement run right in front of the beautiful Fort Madison riverfront. We now have riverboat excursions. We’re months away from bringing the depot back to its rightful place on the riverfront, and now we could be just a year away from what Mohrfeld “won’t apologize for” being a 5-star marina.

It’s not just a dock for Fort Madison’s boating enthusiasts. Make sure you know the full tilt of this project. It’s a restaurant and convenience center with increased parking, permanent and visitor docks, and a gorgeous view of the panoramic Illinois bluffs tucked behind the country’s only double decker swing span bridge.

The pandemic has done one thing and that’s push people back to their love of the river. The city plans to capitalize on that in the partnerships. Proceeds from the slip rentals and sales from the hospitality center are earmarked for keeping the marina maintained and dredged creating a sustainability outside city coffers. Yet the city, through the lease agreements with the partners, will own the property which will enable state and federal grants in the event the Mississippi gets disgruntled again.

But here’s the bigger picture. The marina not only will bring in a projected 50,000 visits per year, according to Mohrfeld, but it puts yet another feature on a riverfront that for decades has been underestimated and under utilized.

With the riverboats docking, the Old Fort becomes a bigger attraction. Moving the Amtrak Depot also adds potential, and Charles Craft & Co. bring tens of thousands in yearly for four days of music, events, games, carnival and food.

Stop and look at what’s going on downtown. We’re creating, very quickly we might add, a culture center around eclectic food, art and shopping – an attractive day stop for boaters, river cruisers and rail riders.

The city could have borrowed millions to fix roads any year for the past… who knows how many years. We’re gonna have to borrow to finish that stretch of Hwy. 61, but another $2 trillion federal infrastructure bill is being finalized and pushed in Washington D.C. We might be able to capitalize on that money if we’re shovel ready with city projects.

Borrowing isn’t bad if it makes sense and the future looks good to repay it. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Manager David Varley said the general fund outlook is improving. The city hasn’t yet begun tapping into utilities through the passed franchise tax so things could continue to improve.

Sure there’s other things we need. The home of the fire department is way passed it’s efficiencies, the city street department basically functions out of a shed…and yeah, our roads are rough. But the sewer separation project that is being mandated by the Department of Natural Resources will require some roads being torn up so it makes sense to wait on those until that work is completed.

This is a good spend at a good time. It brings attention to the riverfront and takes a project that would have taken city money alone to resurrect, and leverages it to bring another $4.5 million in private investment to improve the quality of life. That attraction brings spending, which Mohfeld said could hit $7.5 million if you use economic rollover numbers.

It has the potential, and likelihood, to put us on the map with regard to top boating destinations along the Mississippi River, and with all the other burgeoning activity in the works, it’s a big piece of the entire riverfront economy.

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

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: