Convention & Visitors Bureau may turn independent as SL hopes grow

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Storm Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau could find a life of its own as the business and tourism outlook continues to grow.

Chamber Manager Marilyn Monson told the Storm Lake City Council about the possible independent status of the CVB Monday night as outside agencies came to the city for their annual funding requests.

Monson requested $26,000, or 20 percent of the city hotel/motel tax receipts, for the 2006-07 budget.

Monson pointed out the role that the CVB has played in marketing Storm Lake business, from an exhibit at the Iowa State Fair to participating in the Storm Lake branding campaign to lighted billboards on Highway 71.

"We are about to have company. Are we ready," Monson asked.

Monson said the funding request included making the CVB a separate entity with a full-time marketing staff that would be responsible for advertising and brochures. "That needs a full-time staff," Monson said. "We have a really great diamond in the rough here."

Monson also asked the Council to continue funding Christmas street decorations at $2,700 which is matched privately. She thanked the city for providing city crews to install the decorations.

Also on Monson's slate was a request for assistance for work on Santa's Castle. The building turned 100 this year. Monson said a proposal to make the building handicap accessible would include building an elevator shaft on the south side of the building, a project estimated at $180,000. She said the Santa's Castle Committee would like to set aside $10,000 a year for the next three years as "seed money" for an elevator.

Last year, the city contributed toward funding the handicap access study.

Other needs at Santa's Castle are for tuck pointing and exterior painting. Monson offered two estimates, $36,000 and $51,000, for partial and total tuck pointing plus an additional $21,500 for exterior wood restoration and repair. Monson said plans are for Santa's Castle to be open year-around.

Gary Lalone, Chamber and Storm Lake Area Development Corporation executive director, outlined SLADC accomplishments and goals to the Council as he requested $12,360, the same funding level as last year.

Lalone said this past year, SLADC paid down some of the outstanding principal on the spec building and paid off lots in the industrial park. Lalone said the spec building was shown to four prospects recently and two remain interested. The cost of new construction is a drawing card for the building, Lalone said.

"We have a tremendous partnership with the city," Lalone noted, such as work with the Lake Preservation Association, working with Raccoon Valley Biodiesel for an option on 25 acres, a country drive trail, SLADC's $10,700 investment in the branding campaign, and work toward joining the Iowa Great Lakes Corridor of Opportunity.

Goals for next year are selling the spec building, doing a laborshed study, developing a prospect kit, increases in the travel budget, lobbying legislators for lake dredging and the Storm Lake Access and Marina, drive trail completion, and promoting both Storm Lake and Buena Vista County.

Lalone said Storm Lake is gaining a statewide reputation for innovative development efforts, most notably Project AWAYSIS.

"They look at us as a bright and shining star," Lalone said, noting an inquiry by a new business prospect at least once every two weeks. "At least 20 in the last year have definitely taken a look at us," Lalone said. "They're kicking the tires. We're positioned as a can-do community. They're looking at us as a community that has got something going."

Two years ago, said Lalone, "we had nobody contact us about moving to our community and now they're starting to do so. We're getting state recognition. We're getting tremendous attention throughout northwest Iowa."

Requests for funding consideration also came from Witter Gallery, Upper Des Moines Opportunity, RTA/RIDES, Storm Lake Taxi, Northwest Iowa Alcohol and Drug Treatment Unit, Storm Lake CommUNITY Education, Buena Vista County Historical Society, and the Buena Vista Council on Aging.

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