City offers up another plan for Old Fort

Unmanned walking tours offered as one option going forward


FORT MADISON – The City of Fort Madison is once again looking at the future of the Old Fort.
A discussion of what that future looks like was placed on the agenda of the regular meeting of the Fort Madison City Council Tuesday night. That discussion was spurred by a recommendation to secure the buildings, repair a roof, and then fence off the property with historic and informative signing that would allow for self-tours along outside the fence.
Councilman Rusty Andrews and Councilman Kevin Rink were assigned by Mayor Matt Mohrfeld to look into possible plans for the historical museum.
Andrews said a meeting was held with a group of people interested in the Fort, including city staff, and the main topic of conversation centered around the current program not being effective.
“It costs the city a fair amount of money just to open the doors,” Andrews said.
“It's not making any revenue. Does history tourism usually make revenue? No, but if it could be closer to (net) 0 that would be great.”
He said the Fort opened in 1988 and by 1992 it had 17,000 people going through it. However, by year 10 it was 7,600 and by year 20 attendance had dropped to 4,000. By 2018 it was 3,500.
“Halfway through its life, we’ve mellowed out at about 4,000 people and, with the boat, that’s still what we had,” Andrews said.
American Cruise Lines announced last year that they would no longer be making stops in Fort Madison for the time being.
He said the facility is showing its age and will take money to renovate or rebuild.
“If that’s where the community wants us to go, to rebuild a facility that costs us a ton of money to run every day, the people can speak and we can go that route,” he said.
“But is there another option?”
In a memo included in the council’s packet from City Manager Laura Legois, she issued a recommendation to use insurance funds for roof repairs, secure the buildings to ensure no one can enter, and have adequate signage around the buildings to inform visitors to tour the grounds on their own with no staffing or re-enactments.
She said based on the meetings and conversations with staff and committee the Fort is an important part of the city and, in an effort to keep the history alive, a committee of interested individuals would be formed to help develop a more comprehensive vision.
She also said a location outside of the flood plain would need to be determined and, in the future, the property would not be owned by the city, but would be supported by the city with planning and funding options.
“With the right people involved could somebody come up with a plan to make that tourist destination viable, succeed, grow. How do we do that?,” Andrews said. “The employees of the city aren’t going to win that battle. We are too busy focused on public safety, infrastructure, those kinds of things.”
He said a group of people in the public who are supporters of the Fort need to come together with the city to get it done. He said City Hall didn’t build a pickleball court, or a dog park.
“It wouldn’t have got done if you waited on City Hall to build it,” he said.
“I’m hoping we can rally the right people to come together, come up with a plan, and raise money with the city’s partnership,” Andrews said.
“We’re not going to bulldoze it - we’re not going to burn it down - we have insurance money to put a roof on it, but status quo of it being staffed is not in our budget. So what do we do with it? Sitting like it is with the gates locked doesn’t benefit anyone.
“How do we make it a tourist destination that is unmanned.”
He said you can’t leave the doors open because vandals will destroy it.
Bill Napier, an original member of the commission that created the Old Fort said greater communication with the public needs to happen. Napier was the longest serving member of the original commission.
“It seems to me that the No. 1 thing about that Fort is to take a message into the community about the importance of it,” he said.
“Not only the history of the country and this city, but to the future of the city. I think a lot of people know almost nothing about the War of 1812, of which this was a part. This was a war we almost lost and this country could have gone back to the British.”
He said the biggest mistake that’s been made has been the failure to excite the local population about the importance of the Old Fort.
Napier said American Cruise Lines valued the Fort enough to make it a key part of their marketing for the Upper Mississippi and he believes they will come back.
In other action, the council:
• voted 6-0 to approve special event permits for Pen City Cruisers Car Show on May 4, Riverside Pride Festival on June 7, Southeast Iowa Spoonfest on June 8, Ballgown Baseball June 15th-June 16th, and Art on the Avenue Sept. 15th. The council waved all special event fees for those events in exchange for being named a sponsor of the event.
• voted 6-0 to acquire 13 tax certificates on properties in the city to clean up and get in the hands of developers to get back on property tax rolls. The cost was estimated at $500 per certificate by Building Director Doug Krogmeier.

city, news, Old Fort, tax certficates, plans, committee, volunteers, Fort Madison, city council, meeting, visitors, tourism, historic, museum, Pen City Current


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here