City leaders comfortable in role
Make no mistake, city officials are saying, the February 8 bond issue election in Storm Lake is a make-it-or-break-it proposition for Project AWAYSIS.
"About 98 percent of the comments I hear from people are positive - people are excited and they see the future and the vision of the promise of this," city Project Manager Mike Wilson reflected this week. "However, there are concerns, and most of the concerns seem to be about the lodge hotel."
There may be some misconceptions in the community about the impact of the $6 million bond issue on February 8 - such as thinking that if the vote is not passed, the project may just be scaled back a bit, or delayed slightly for a second vote, or that local option sales tax money can be used to make up the difference.
Not so, according to Wilson.
Project AWAYSIS will be a go only if the bond issue passed by the required 60 percent supermajority.
"In our proposal to Vision Iowa, we said we could do all of these things, and it is incumbent on us to do all we said we would do - including a bond issue," he said. "If we don't pass a bond issue, their investment in us can be withdrawn and we can't do this project at all.
"It is not a matter of reworking the project to make it cheaper if the vote fails. If we change it, the state does not give us the $8 million that is promised, and that is pretty black and white."
If the bond issue were to fail, it would be at least six months before another such vote could be held, and Vision Iowa isn't likely to wait for that, officials feel. There also is not enough local option sales tax revenue to replace the bond issue even if Vision Iowa allowed for that, Wilson said.
"The financial projections work very comfortably, and the city is quite comfortable with its role in this," Wilson said. "Basically, we have Vision Iowa paying for half of a hotel for us - we stand to get a $10 million facility for only $6 million in bonding."
Storm Lake city officials have been very conservative with spending and municipal debt for the past 30 years, Wilson suggests. "It is not in the nature of Storm Lake leaders to be wild and risky, so I do hope people take comfort in the fact that their leaders would not put the city in any position of taking a big risk here."
Another concern city officials hear is, "Why would anyone come to Storm Lake?"
"It takes a little vision to see that people will come when there's something to come to," Wilson said. "In my opinion, there is no question people will use this Project AWAYSIS facility, the hotel, the indoor water park. Storm Lake has never marketed itself as a destination except maybe for people doing some boating and fishing. It will take a little different vision for us to imagine what can come of all this."
A committee headed up by Dan and Diane Sokolowsi is working to promote a positive outcome for the election. City employees are not allowed to campaign.
That doesn't mean that the city staff isn't busy. As of this week, they are heavily involved in the process of sequencing the construction phases for AWAYSIS. Because each area of the project impacts several other areas, it will be vital to correctly coordinate each step, Wilson said.
Wilson is also making the rounds of local groups to talk about the project - with 12-15 groups scheduled over the next couple of weeks.
There will be several public opportunities - including AWAYSIS presentations at the Ag and Home Show Jan. 29, 1 p.m. at the former Wal-Mart site; a CommUnity Education public presentation on AWAYSIS Jan. 18, 7:30 at the Middle School; and another Jan. 31 at 10:30 a.m. at the United Methodist Church.
Wilson will be making presentations to the BVU faculty, and educators at the elementary, middle school and high school prior to the vote as well. The university is considering adding an ACES event to help educate the students to AWAYSIS.
"I'll go any place, any time, and answer any question," Wilson said. "We want to have everything in front of the public so that they can make the best informed decision possible."