BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – The Lee County Economic Development Group is moving forward with plans for the former KL Megla building in Montrose.
The building was the focal point of Joint Education Center for Lee County before the Central Lee School District tapped the brakes on plans citing a lack of communication.
Iowa code gives school districts authority over what instruction takes place within their respective districts, and Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier said the district wouldn’t move forward with the center at that time.
LCEDG met again Tuesday with officials from Fort Madison, Central Lee, and Keokuk school districts, a new potential Lee County manufacturer, local businesses and industries, the Southeast Iowa Regional & Economic Port Authority, and Southeastern Community College officials.
According to a joint release out of the meeting, the LCEDG has agreed to a new purchase agreement for the facility and land.
“Future plans for the building and land could include a career exploration center, manufacturing facility, and an advanced manufacturing business park,” the release indicated.
“Purchasing the property will allow time for Lee County Economic Development Group, its stakeholders, and partners to develop the best and highest use of the property. Conversations and planning continue with a wide range of groups to develop the property.”
LCEDG President Dennis Fraise has been vocal about moving forward with what has transitioned from a joint education center to a career exploration center.
On Thursday the Southeast Iowa Regional Economic Port Authority convened to discuss the status of the building and their potential ownership role. The port authority has the ability to purchase and own the building which would provide for additional tax incentives.
SIREPA partners with Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission for administrative services. SIRPC Executive Director Mike Norris said there are economic advantages and risks to the authority owning the building.
But he said the 60-day purchase agreement is assignable to the port authority and the partners in the education center effort are pursuing the port authority collectively to secure financing and purchase the facility.
The purchase cost would be offset with an initial investment of $100,000 from the LCEDG, and $20K each from Fort Madison Economic Development Corp. and Keokuk Economic Development Corp. Fraise has said that fundraisers are being planned to make up the rest of the cost of the building.
Norris said the role would be the best project opportunity the authority has had.
“Since late 2014 when I started working with SIREPA we’ve tried to prepare for something like this. This isn’t without risks, but compared to other things they are probably relatively low,” Norris said.
He said the worst-case scenario would be to get the loan and the authority wouldn’t be able to satisfy the loan and it would goes into foreclosure. He said then bank would take it back and try to sell it.
As a property of the authority, their would be not property taxes assessed against the facility because the PORT authority operates as state entity that wouldn’t tax itself, which would be a substantial savings.