Marina group kicks off public campaign

Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld unveils a public campaign kickoff for the city's new marina Thursday at the Kingsley Inn. Courtesy image

Cabinet reaching out to community to help fill $1.8 million funding gap

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – After close to two years of working behind the scenes on a complete overhaul of the city’s riverfront marina, Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld turned the final leg of fundraising out to the community Thursday evening.

In a well-attended event at the Kingsley Inn, Mohrfeld updated about 100 people, including investors and a board that’s referred to as a cabinet, as a nod to the relevance and importance of the project.

Mohrfeld said he has been humbled by the reaction and support of the community to the project. And although he’s been the face and voice of the efforts, he was quick to say it is a community-wide project.

MOHRFELD

“I’m really humbled by the people. I’ve had people stop me in the street and say, ‘This is a great project you have.’ Well it isn’t my project and I gotta tell ya, I’m just one runner in a team of runners. The baton was handed to me and we’re going to keep running,” Mohrfeld said.

Mohrfeld referred to efforts of previous Mayor Brad Randolph and current City Council members.

“What started out as a vision a few years ago by a lot of people in this room is going to come to pass,” he said

He said sustainability was the key component in the planning phases and said taking on $10 million in debt was not an option for the city, so other contributions are making the project a reality.

The city did kick in $1.5 million to start the process. On top of that came a $1.5 million commitment from Fort Madison Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission; The FMCH-Great River Health Systems Community Foundation kicked in $1.5 million due to wellness plans; and FEMA contributions to flood mitigation efforts that are part of the plans have amounted to $1.5 million.

Mohrfeld also worked to secure a $400,000 Community Attraction and Tourism grant, and the Iowa DNR has kicked in $50,000.

The cabinet is looking to shore up $9.7 million to get the marina functional and has raised $7.98 million to-date.

Mohrfeld said Friday, the Thursday event was a celebration of the first phases of the targeted fundraising and served as a kickoff to the second phase, which is a more organic community-based effort in trying to obtain the remaining $1.8 million.

“What we’re doing now is making an opportunity for people in the community who could say, ‘I love this project, can I write you a check?’.”

Donations can be sent to Fort Madison Partners at 614 7th Street c/o Southeast Iowa Aquatic Restoration Group, Inc. Mohrfeld said the 501c3 application for the group was just approved and all contributions are tax deductible.

Dennis Hinkle, the campaign manager for the project, said there have been more than 50 solicitation meetings to help raise private funds to complete the project.

“We have investments from all over the region and we have investments from the people right here in this room.”

Matt Morris, president of Connection Bank and a member of the project cabinet, said the bank chose to invest in the project, but it exemplifies what community banks are about.

“We need to reinvest in our community. The families that own this bank believe in this community and the question isn’t why are we building this marina, the question is why haven’t we built it already,” he said.

Mike Culbertson, president of Lee County Bank and a member of the cabinet, said he grew up on the river and thrived on the recreational opportunities it provided. He said it was one of the reasons he kept his family in Fort Madison.

He pointed to Mohrfeld’s goal of increasing the city’s population by 1,000 people over the next four years and one of the components of that being bringing people back to the area.

“The mayor wants to increase population by 1,000 in four years – you’re talking about me,” Culbertson said.

“This is about quality of life and quality of place. I think we’re going to have a first-class marina. And I think you’re going to attract people from near and far. This marina project in Fort Madison is what I will call our Field of Dreams.”

Lee County Economic Development Director President Dennis Fraise talked about the return on the investments in the marina project.

FRAISE

“Direct construction costs could push $14 million when complete and the project also has a ripple effect of 192 jobs and $6 million in payroll over the next three years,” he said.

“But the actual return on investment cannot be measured in those hard numbers. The impact of the project and the reason to support it is the economic development of the future and the opportunities for our community.”

He said quality of place is a top 4 factor in company relocation decision.

“This project can serve as a catalyst for a whole new core of Fort Madison and unlock our greatest asset – the Mississippi River. It’s almost like we woke up one day and realized we had a river. This is the time for us to unlock that river.”

Mohrfeld thanked legacy patrons of Fort Madison, including Jim and Linda Baier, and Dennis and Kate Menke, who are serving as honorary chairs on the cabinet.

He said the couples have helped clear a path for generations of development and growth in Fort Madison, and are people that love the community and love the river.

Mohrfeld said the project will be finished in the spring two years from now in 2024. However, it will be functional by next spring, with some usable capacity yet this year.

The hospitality center which will be built on the large plateau of dirt currently settling where the former marina restaurant sat, is a private enterprise and will not include public dollars. Construction on that facility, which will include a convenience store, restaurant, small meeting room, bathrooms and showers, and fuel sales, is expected to begin this summer.

Mohrfeld said the project will help define the community going forward.

“This is another cog in that wheel of Fort Madison becoming who Fort Madison is. This is even bigger than if you’re a boater. This is about economic development.”

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