Super CAT fund legislation may pay off for SL
As Storm Lake delivers its application to the Vision Iowa board tomorrow, local leaders remain confident of multi- million-dollar funding to help create a destination park. However, the question may be how much the state has left to spend by the time Storm Lake's Project AWAYSIS gets to the table for negotiation.
The Vision Iowa Board is struggling this week to come to an agreement on how much money to award a proposed $55 million redevelopment project in Cedar Rapids. Planners for that project seek $14 million, and if granted, that would completely empty the Vision Iowa treasury.
Storm Lake must compete against the likes of Cedar Rapids for available state funding, but city leaders say the Project AWAYSIS plan was built to fill Storm Lake's needs, not to grab for a slice of the state pie.
"It doesn't matter what Cedar Rapids or Burlington do," Storm Lake city staffer Justin Yarosevich said Monday. "Our standpoint has been to try to create something that will draw economic development to Storm Lake. Do we do it in a bubble and not care about what Vision Iowa and the other cities are doing? Probably not, but our first thought has always been what is best for Storm Lake."
Even if Vision Iowa cupboards go bare, Project AWAYSIS still has a good chance for funding, said Yarosevich, who has put together the city's application.
"There is also a Super CAT Fund, which the legislature authorized last year, which has multiple-year awards available and is now eligible for projects of more than $20 million," he said. "We will be competing against the other cities, but we still think there will be plenty of money."
Storm Lake's project is estimated at $29 million, and $9 million is sought from Vision Iowa. The CAT funds are expected to amount to $72 million over five years, but the maximum that will be funded to a project in a a single year is $4 million.
"They may not fund Cedar Rapids at the full level, or may not fund them at all. They may not fund Burlington. They may grant Storm Lake all it is asking for, or try to reduce the amount, or not fund us at all. We will only know when we get to that point," Yarosevich said.
Storm Lake's $9 million request takes into account that Vision Iowa has not funded any program beyond 40 percent of the total cost. It is also necessary to show that there is no alternative source for the money to realize a development.
"We will have to make a really good pitch. We have to show economic need," he said. "We really need that $9 million to make this project happen."
Lorna Burnside, a Buena Vista County Supervisor, is a member of the Vision Iowa Board, although she will abstain from voting on the Storm Lake project.
"There is an awful lot of competition. In the last month, I read 40 funding requests," she said.
"If there is no money left in Vision Iowa, Storm Lake's only choice will be to go for the Super CAT money. My understanding is that it will all come out of the same pot now, although we really haven't even talked about that yet," she said.
Burnside said she thinks Storm Lake's chances "are as good as anyone's out there."
"The board will be looking at all the different facets a project offers to people, the other sources of funding and the level of involvement. I think Storm Lake stacks up well on those counts, although I may be a little biased... why shouldn't I be?"
Project AWAYSIS is unique in that the community has created the plan virtually on its own, she feels.
Burnside's advice? Be dead confident of the proposal before it is turned in. "There are some very sharp people on the Vision Iowa board. They can look at the financials and know if it will work. You had better make sure that what you put on that piece of paper is 100 percent right."
If it comes down to a battle between Cedar Rapids, Burlington and Storm Lake for the last chunk of Vision Iowa money, there is no predicting the outcome, Burnside feels. "Cedar Rapids is the older project and has been tweaked a couple of times, whatever that is worth. It all depends on what happens during those face-to-face negotiations, and absolutely nothing is certain right now."
The $55 million Cedar Bend project is "the most difficult one we have ever encountered at the Vision Iowa Board," Chairman Michael Gartner said Friday. "This is the first time, in some 145 deals, where the negotiating team itself is all over the place... My sense is that there is nothing close to a consensus yet on a range, even a broad range."
Cedar Rapids has been after the grant for over two years.
The Vision Iowa Board decided to amend its agenda for next tomorrow so it could discuss the Cedar Rapids project, which would include a recreational lake, a new park with hiking trails, and a fresh food market.
Mayor Paul Pate and Helen Arnold-Olson, the Cedar Rapids consultant who is leading Cedar Rapids' effort to secure a Vision Iowa grant, have been under the impression that the Vision Iowa Board's vote in June to enter negotiations leading to speedy private talks and a multi-million-dollar grant. In the past, a vote to negotiate with a community has been tantamount to an award. But so far, the Vision Iowa negotiating team has not been willing to meet with the city.
"I don't think they've done this with any other project," Arnold-Olson said.
The city conceded months ago that any award will likely be significantly smaller than $14 million asked, because the city of Burlington and Des Moines County want $7.7 million for a project - some of which could be awarded this week - and the city of Storm Lake now wants its $9 million. That's a lot of hands in a relatively small pot.
Some members of the Vision Iowa Board have raised questions in the past about Cedar Bend, wondering if a private developer is really going to pay $15 million to build a riverfront amphitheater and asking if Cedar Rapids and Linn County are contributing enough financial support to the project.
"When you're down to the bottom of the barrel, that's when you have the hardest decisions," Mayor Pate said.
Also up for discussion Wednesday are Vision Iowa projects including the Fayette Family Enrichment project, Denison Community Conference Center, Peosta Peosta Sports Complex, and Phase II National Cattle Congress (the Waterloo Revitalization Plan).
Up for discussion in the CAT program are the Marengo Public Library Renovation, Heart of Hawarden, Centerville Light-house & Visitors Center), West Bend Historical Museum, Webster City / Boone River Recreational Trail, Glidden Swimming Project, Palo Alto Co. Conservation Lost Island Nature Center, Atlantic / Schildberg Rec Center, Humboldt Aquatic Center, Columbus Junction New Iowa Civic Center, Independence Agribition Center, Performing Arts & Education Center of SW Iowa (Red Oak).
Storm Lake officials expect to make their formal presentation to the Vision Iowa board at the September 8 meeting, and are hoping to arrange buses to take a large crowd of Storm Lakers with them to offer support.