FORT MADISON - A regular command of military structure is "About Face".
The Fort Madison City Council said the city will do just that after saying two weeks ago they were going to tear down the Old Fort.
Now, with a resolution of support and new partnership with the Fort Madison Partners and leveraging the newly created Fort Madison Tourism Bureau, the city has committed to shoring up the replica facility in time for riverboat cruising season in 2023.
The decision was made in front of a packed house of supporters and about six people got up to speak about perserving the Fort, including Fort Madison Partners Executive Director Tim Gobble.
On Jan. 18, the city put out a press release stating the Fort would be closed due to safety concerns and dilapidated conditions.
A Facebook post from the staff at the Old Fort let the community know and then several news reports came out about the city's position: first, that someone had spoken out of turn, and then, two hours later, confirming the staff's post that the facility would be closed - sparking an outcry from city residents.
The reaction to the news also prompted several area groups to meet with city officials to have them reconsider the city's position.
"The most important thing, the takeaway is, let's not focus on the blame and what happened yesterday. Let's focus on today and move forward," Gobble told the group.
"It speaks volumes that this room is full because it's hardly ever full. I applaud everyone for being here.”
Gobble said he, too, had heard the Fort was in bad shape, but he said he didn’t realize it was “in such bad shape". He said a fundraising effort is already underway and conversations are taking place with individuals with the state for grant opportunities.
“A lot of things are still on the table, but a lot of that is communication,” he said.
After the meeting, Gobble said the Partners' role in this will be to facilitate that communication.
“We’ll be the conduit for communication in this.”
Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren led a Power Point presentation with photos of the deterioration of the Fort, including bowing walls, rotting wood, and gaps in structural materials.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said after a task force toured the facility, he said the facility showed extreme weaknesses.
“It was everything from not tidy, unclean, to unsafe. I can say all that differently, but that was the observation.”
He said Herren and Building Director Doug Krogmeier said they couldn’t use the facility without assuming risk.
“We couldn’t just bury our head in the sand on this and we had to address the asset,” Mohrfeld said.
He said the goal was to review the findings and then, as a council and a group, determine a short-term and long-term path forward.
“Part of this has to be a plan for sustainability,” he said.
Several members of the original Old Fort Commission, including Bill Napier, spoke to the council. Napier said he was there to encourage the council to make a commitment to keep the Old Fort viable.
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker said she wanted the council to move forward with transparency and not engage in back door discussions.
“I think we can all agree the way the dialogue came out about the Fort was very unorganized and was not managed correctly,” she said.
“I think that’s why there’s been so much frustration on people’s part. So, whatever the direction the council takes or the community takes, it needs to be in the form of a public forum so there’s transparency.”
Councilman Chad Cangas said the position of the council has changed over the past two weeks.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in this chamber right now tha thinks it’s not a good idea for the soul of Fort Madison that we find a way to move forward. I don’t think anybody supports any other vision, it’s just finding a way we can afford to do it,” Cangas said.
No specific funding streams were identified Tuesday, other than the regular budgeted amount of funding from the hotel/motel tax that is part of the city’s annual budget.
Councilwoman Donna Amandus said fundraising efforts will begin shortly to help with the rehabilitation efforts.
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Needs to be rebuilt next to dollar general, will never flood there. Wait until someone gets hurt for a lawsuit. The old one was never taken care of. All the money spent over the years by people that were to take care of it. Ft Madison has alot more to give tourists then just the fort. Build new up by dollar general and more tourists will show up.
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I was very impressed with this meeting. We had a full house and our voices as a community were heard.
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