Project Awaysis supporters are confident that the Storm Lake lakefront plan will receive an award at the Vision Iowa meeting Wednesday in Des Moines. However, there is yet to be an official announcement of an award amount.
"Yes, there likely will be" an award Wednesday," Shawna Lode, communications manager with the Iowa Department of Economic Development, told the Pilot-Tribune Monday. Lode declined to give a dollar amount of the award, but when asked whether Project Awaysis would receive the full $9 million it is requesting, Lode said "there never has been" a Vision Iowa award for the full amount requested.
Storm Lake City Administrator John Call said that Nichole Warren, Vision Iowa program manager, had notified him Monday morning that Storm Lake would receive a Project Awaysis award; however, Call said Warren declined to name an award figure. The award will will announced at the Vision Iowa board meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the West Des Moines Marriott at 1250 Jordan Creek Parkway.
Storm Lake is asking for $9 million in Vision Iowa funds to complete a $29-million funding package for Project Awaysis. Originally a destination park concept, Project Awaysis has outgrown its original scope to include an upscale hotel, waterpark, condominiums, and a new beach along with a nature interpretive center, recreational and driving trails throughout Buena Vista county and tie-ins to downtown Storm Lake. The project is projected to be worth almost $19 million a year to the city's economy.
Governor Tom Vilsack's calendar indicated that he would appear at the Vision Iowa meeting 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. That can mean nothing except good news for Awaysis, since the Governor traditionally appears at Vision Iowa meetings only to grant an award, and the only project on deck is Project Awaysis.
"That sounds like great news," said Gary Lalone, Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce executive director, upon hearing of the Governor's scheduled appearance before Project Awaysis. "He never shows up at those (Vision Iowa meetings) unless they give a grant," Lalone said.
City of Storm Lake Administrative Services Director Justin Yarosevich said he had learned that the final score sheet had been turned in for the Awaysis Project. Scoring must be completed before awards can be made.
Yarosevich was equally optimistic about an award. "I'm 99.9 percent certain that we'll get an award," Yarosevich said. "They don't call in the Governor for nothing."
Vision Iowa board Chair Michael Gartner had said at the Nov. 10 meeting that he would like to see some determination of an award for Project Awaysis by the Wednesday board meeting. Gartner was out of his office Monday and was unavailable for comment.
Lorna Burnside, Vision Iowa board member and Buena Vista County supervisor, has maintained contact with the board regarding Awaysis to help provide information about the project but will abstain from voting on the project in accordance with board policy that prevents board members from voting on projects in their own counties. "I'll be there but I'd have to abstain," Burnside explained. "You are an information person. You do not vote on it."
That does not mean that Burnside is not 100 percent in favor of Project Awaysis.
"If I could score it, it would be off the chart," Burnside said.
It will be decided Wednesday," Burnside said. "I'm sure it will go to a vote from what I've heard. I'd be surprised if we didn't vote on it. My contacts with them have only given a range" which Burnside did not specify.
While some may wonder about the gauntlet of questions that Vision Iowa board members have of every project that comes before them, Burnside said the purpose is to objectively examine each project in depth to determine whether it can succeed.
"They have questions on every application on how it will work financially," Burnside said. "I think you're a help to a project if you can say it's too weak or this needs some work."
Burnside said Project Awaysis is unique compared to any other project she has seen as a Vision Iowa board member due to the research, local expertise, and overwhelming community support behind the project. "I've not heard of those numbers before," Burnside said of the 150-plus Awaysis volunteers.