$28m State Park Plan debuts

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Imagine it, if you can.

After months of study, the city's consulting landscape architect unveiled a preliminary plan for the Storm Lake State Park Thursday, a stunning array of projects flung along the lakefront with an estimated pricetag of slightly more than $28 million.

* Imagine a Storm Lake with a massive three-to-four story lodge hotel perched on the shore near the existing pool site, with nearly 100 upscale rooms, and a cobblestone and heavy wood beam design reminiscent of the great western national park lodges of a century ago. This "New Cobblestone Lodge" would borrow image from the former Cobblestone Ballroom and include an impressive restaurant with hopefully a world-class chef, a conference center, possibly a day spa, stone fireplaces, a small lagoon or possibly a small marina. (Complex cost $14 million.)

* Imagine a Storm Lake with an aquatic center of 15,000 square feet that is unique hybrid between water theme park and traditional pool, with indoor/ outdoor swimming, lap pool, zero depth entry and children's play area with lots of whimsical toys, to be shared between the community and the guests of the lodge as part of the massive hotel development.

* Imagine a Storm Lake with a state-of-the art Watershed Learning Center attraction on Little Storm Lake preserve, complete with trails linking to the LakeTrail and middle school campus, and wildlife observation piers. ($3.55 million.)

* Imagine Storm Lake with a large new Lakeshore Drive Beach between Chautauqua and Sunrise Parks, curving along a circular cove near the current DNR boat ramp, complete with a 40-50-feet tall lighthouse at the outer end of a jetty. This is to be known as Lighthouse Pointe to build on the community's nautical identity. There would be a long, lighted promenade boardwalk, a large fountain, family picnic pavilion and shelterhouse, and a "water jet" out in the lake blasting colored water 30-40 feet into the air ($1.59 million).

* Imagine an excursion pontoon boat with dock and/or paddle boat rental pier not far from the beach, and near an expanded campground.

* Imagine a Storm Lake with a spacious green space development surrounded by gardens known as "The Great Lawn," where festivals such as art fairs could be held and a community monument could be placed. There would be historical-style lighting and a flower walk ($824,000).

* Imagine a Storm Lake with a sprawling $1 million theme playground for all ages next to The Great Lawn, including lighting and picnic area.

* Imagine a Storm Lake with the old waterworks building in Sunset Park converted to a community building and heaquarters for a sailing club. ($265,500).

* Imagine a Storm Lake with a golf course completely reworked to include residential development with 30 lots for new villa homes with a lake view, a new pond feature, and a "golf course academy" created in the existing clubhouse structure ($2.226 million).

* Imagine a Storm Lake with 20 new upscale lakefront tourist cabins for rent.

The cabins would be available seasonally or annually (almost $3 million), new RV park areas at the campground and marina, tent camping area expansion at the campground ($800,000).

* Imagine a Storm Lake with the ugly broken concrete removed, to be replaced with more natural glacial boulders to stabilize the shore, taken from an area quarry.

* Imagine a Storm Lake with more recreation trails, better access to natural preserves, more picnic and shelter facilities, better playground equipment and a new disc golf course.

The Vision

David Ciaccio can imagine it all, and more. The Omaha landscape architecture guru has spent the several months meeting with many groups in the city and formulating the preliminary plan for the State Park.

With some input from a local committee pushing for the state park, and local government officials, he will fine tune the plan for presentation January 21 at a joint annual meeting of the Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce and Storm Lake Area Development Corporation. A public meeting would probably be held the following day, in hopes that the finished plan could be formally accepted by the city council in February.

How long might it take to build such a massive project? Sioux City's waterfront plan is still being worked on after 10 years, Ciaccio said.

Storm Lake Mayor Jon Kruse suspects it may not take Storm Lake that long.

"This is really exciting. In Storm Lake, we haven't been satisfied with the status quo. We've talked about replacing the pool, we've talked about the need for some form of recreation center, because we were never satisifed with the status quo. The planning has evolved, and this project will no doubt change somewhat and be tweaked as we move forward," he said. "It is an opportunity to transform this community into a regional attraction."

Chamber of Commerce CEO and Lake Preservation Association President Gary Lalone said the plan answers many of the needs he hears expressed over and over in the community in terms of greater access to the lake as a recreational entity, beach space and swimming.

"Something like this will take some time to sink in," he said. "To say the least, it's exciting. It is an amazing use of space."

Chamber director Marilyn Monson said that the plan represents much more tourism and marketing impact in the city as well as additional employment, sales tax revenue to the local tax base.

Online journalist Chuck Offenburger said that he has closely followed tourism developments around the state. "This looks like the best bang for the buck of any development in Iowa in the past five years. It would be a huge step for Storm Lake, and it is important that we get out of the door ahead of the Honey Creek development in southern Iowa."

The group urged Ciaccio to include more trail development in the final plan. Several committee members said they want to see trail circling the lake, although the planner is reluctant to see trail tied in with highway-speed traffic.

City Council member Denny Vaudt said that he would like to have trail systems link the lakefront with the downtown with the retail area at the north edge of the city. "I'd like to see people be able to go all the way from Lakeside to the Wal-Mart on a bicycle, with the same vista, the same look," he said.

The Outlook

According to Ciaccio, the real work begins now.

"This is where the rubber meets the road. This project will have to become the number one funding priority for the city council into the future if it is to happen."

Compromise in some cases would not be good for the project, he added. For example, the hotel only works because of its impressive character and size, and it can't be done to that scale, it would be better not to try to do it at all, Ciaccio told the group.

"It has to be a one-of-a-kind. It has to be a signature hotel if it is going to draw people from the surrounding states into Storm Lake."

He feels it will open a new age of eco-tourism for Storm Lake, and suggested that the community is sitting on "a gold mine" with the potential to attract tourism nationally to view the wind energy project that is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

"This State Park project would establish Storm Lake as a regional tourism attraction," according to Ciaccio, as well as unite the entire area.

In meeting with other area communities, he said he senses support coming out of the surrounding small communities. "From the State Park, the attraction will radiate. I think everyone will be willing to support the effort, because it is going to be helpful to the entire area.

"I really think that once this gets started, the State Park project is going to market itself."

The plan is build around preservation of the community's natural resources, he said.

"The one thing I kept hearing from all the community groups I met with was the need to be resource-based. The people and the culture of Storm Lake are so oriented to the natural resources, that this State Park project must be too."

A Note of Opposition

Not everyone was enthused with the imaginative plan.

Harold Redenbaugh, chairman of the city park board, vocally opposed the scope of the development. City founders did well to retain a great deal of green, open public park space along the lakefront, which separates Storm Lake from the other midwest lake resort communities, he argued.

Building a large hotel, tourist cabins and other developments along the lake will block the open views, he feels. "I can't see why we want to commercialize the lake. Everything we put in the way of the lake takes that much more of our green space away."

Redenbaugh said he expects some opposition to the plan from the community for that reason.

Ciaccio said the lodge and the cabins could draw people from even surrounding states, but to be marketable, they have to be located on the lake.

Ciaccio did sound his own note of warning, saying he sees a danger already with different groups wanting to install new landmarks, play equipment and other items in what is now green spaces. If this isn't regulated, the open, flexible appeal and use of some of the parks could disappear, he said.

Redenbaugh noted that he had served on a committee a few years back that was planning a new pool, but that the group was called off when the mayor started a task force on a larger rec center project, which was in turn dropped in favor of the still larger State Park idea.

The community is still waiting for that pool, he said.

State Park Discussion

Several questions arose during the unveiling of the preliminary plan this week.

State Representative Mary Lou Freeman wondered where the vacant Cobblestone Inn would fit in. Ciaccio said the ballroom is not included in the plan. He suggested that it has outlived its usefulness, but not its legacy, and would be remembered in the Cobblestone design of the lodge.

The vacant site is privately owned, and so can not be included in the plan at this time.

Also, little is planned for the south side of the lake. Since it is not controlled by Storm Lake which hired him for the plan, it is not in his jurisdiction Ciaccio said.

His plan also does not make specific use of the Harbor House building, city officials noted, which the city recently purchased in hopes that the site would play some role in the State Park.

Others wondered how much business the lodge and its restaurant might take away from existing Storm Lake motels and eateries. A financial consultant said that hasn't been studied, but suggested that the development fills a new niche, and after a couple of years, might attract enough new business to the community to more than offset any competition it creates.

Vaudt said he is also struggling with the idea of sharing an aquatic center between a privately-operated lodge facility and the children of Storm Lake as a community pool. Ciaccio said such arrangements are working elsewhere.

While nothing has been decided, the planners envision that the lodge land would remain public, while the hotel itself could either be built by the community and run by a professional company, or developed by an outside corporation as a private entity.

The adjacent aquatic center would probably best operate the same way, with a company in charge that has experience in water park operation, they said.

Where to begin?

The first step in the project would probably be to move a portion of the Sunrise Park Road near the Harbor House, which will be needed to make space for the new developments, Mayor Kruse said.

The plan would require the historical cabin and schoolhouse to be moved away from their current sites, the Kolb Gardens and fountain to be moved, and all of the rip-rap concrete along the Storm Lake lakefront to be removed and replaced with more natural glacial boulders bought from an area quarry.

Ciaccio said he feels his plan was well received, but admitted that it had probably left local leaders "overwhelmed."

"As far as I'm aware, no city has ever done something similar to this - created such a dramatic change to a waterfront," he said.

When asked for comment after the plan was unveiled, City Clerk Patti Moore may have said it best:


Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: