For the first time, the feeling in the room seems to be not wonder at abstract ideas of what could be, but a realization of what will be - a reality in glass and concrete only months away.
This time, as Storm Lakers gathered to look at colorful posterboards of a sprawling lodge hotel, an innovative water park and other elements of Project AWAYSIS, the feeling was palpable - these are final, these are real.
A crowd of volunteers who have worked with the project gathered Tuesday night for the first viewing of the just-completed designs. The public got a similar preview Wednesday night. At the same time, the people also stole glances out the picture window of the golf course clubhouse, where a massive dirt berm has been built up just a chip-shot away to begin the $30 million construction project next spring.
Mayor Jon Kruse leaned comfortably against a wall, removed from the milling throng around the pictures.
"Ready to start building this thing," he confides, in his mock gruff growl. "Time to do this."
The designs show change from the original concepts drawn a couple of years ago, but very few compromises. Virtually all of the features discussed in the visioning stage for the central part of AWAYSIS remain.
The lodge itself is drawn for 81 rooms, but architects have included an alternate plan that would extend a wing to allow for 100 total rooms if bids come in low enough.
It will be three stories tall, curving slightly convex along the waterfront. The north side, facing the highway, will sit 12 feet higher than the south, facing the lake, creating dramatic views of the waterfront. At one end, the hotel melds into the enclosure for the water park and its lofty waterslide tower, to be located roughly across from the Knights of Columbus hall.
Lodge rooms will range from basic "king" single bed setups to double "queens," with 22 family suites and a couple of luxurious two-bedroom suites with living rooms.
The amenities shown in the designs include a spa, fitness center, banquet room, conference rooms, board room, a restaurant built in three tiers overlooking the lake including a bar at the highest point and an outside dining patio at the lowest, arcade, laundry and a snack bar that will service the aquatic area. The second level is dominated by a "bridge" feature, open to the lobby area below on both sides. This second floor hall will access the indoor water park guest cardholder entry, while the local public will be able to enter from a separate gate outside.
The indoor portion of the waterpark is designed to include a current channel for floating or water aerobic walking, three large twisting water slides, two lap swimming lanes, a rock climbing wall, and a party room overlooking the pool which can be used for events like birthdays. There will be a large jacuzzi jet tub and a water basketball goal available.
The outdoor portion of the water park consists of two adjacent pools. One will be dominated by a slide of over 400 feet, believed to be the longest in Iowa, and a long lazy river raft ride that will encircle the development. There will also be a swirl bowl ride in which riders circle a massive bowl until gravity shoots them out the bottom and into the pool.
The other section of pool will hold swim racing lanes for meets, a diving area with one- and three-meter boards, and children's play areas including a "Spray Island" with lots of play-on features. One feature of the waterpark will allow children to use a net suspended over the pool to guide them as they walk on floats across the water. There will be a sunshade area for parents, concessions counter and changing/locker area.
On the lake near the development, a 24-slip courtesy dock is planned to allow boaters to pull right up to the hotel and water park. There is the potential for an excursion boat to operate from this dock.
Beyond the pool, the design shows other elements discussed earlier - the oval Great Lawn where community events could be held, colorful gardens, a circular playground enclosed by a stone wall, and "Lakeshore Drive Beach," planned for the jetty area, where a large lighthouse will include a concessions area and an observation deck.
The plans are considered "nearly final," city project director Mike Wilson told the crowd - some tweaking may take place as plans and specifications are prepared over the next six weeks to open for contractor bidding.
For Kevin Striehle, principal architect of the designs from the Omaha firm that has been consulting on AWAYSIS since the beginning, the posterboards represent the culmination of six months of intense work.
It hasn't always been easy, he told the Pilot-Tribune.
"I would say that a half a dozen different versions were tried and thrown out," he smiled. "We had a lot of different elements to this development to balance out, and it wasn't easy to meet all of the road and lake setbacks required on a long and narrow piece of property."
Designers started by going back to the original market plan study that launched AWAYSIS hopes, to find out how many people needed to be served by the lodge, the restaurant, the water park areas. "Then we started to create, to arrange various pieces to take advantage of the terrain and of course the wonderful lake view."
While the development had to have an attention-grabbing look, designers also had to be pragmatic, he said. "We spent a lot of time considering how the various parts of this will work together, how people will use it and move through it. It has to be efficient as well as attractive," Striehle said.
He called AWAYSIS a "truly unique" development. "Of course, there have been lodges designed in other places. But here, you have a lodge, a waterpark, a major restaurant and a conference facility all within one structural area. We knew that we essentially had to create four front doors and not have any back doors."
The lodge itself has evolved somewhat since an original concept was drawn back in the early planning stages. That original drew heavily on the arts and crafts style of the western national park great lodges, with stones and rustic timbers.
The final version is a little slicker, a little more modern, but retains some of the outdoorsy cues - from detached stone and wood columns on the exterior to a towering stone fireplace in the two-story lobby. Modern touches include a two-story wall of glass that permits the lobby to look out directly on the lake.
"We took into account the architecture in your area, and the nature of the site itself," Striehle said of the lodge planning. "What happened after a while was a real idea of what a lodge that is an important part of this particular community wants to look like."
No one person drew the lodge, he stresses. "Our planning meetings became very large. Virtually all of our architects became involved, as well as landscape architects, engineers, construction managers, the management firm for the hotel, city representatives, and of course, cost estimators who were with us every step of the way."
The cost experts feel the plan is doable for the existing budget, although that won't be known for certain until bids are opened later this season. Lodge cost is still being estimated. Waterpark cost is pegged at around $5.86 million.
"We have had some potential contractors calling us already to find out about this project, so we feel good about where we are at," Striehle said.
Because of its proximity to the lake, the planning had to incorporate a gentle environmental touch at every step. "We are very cognizant of the importance of the lake and we expect this project to have no negative impact," the designer said.
Striehle added, "We feel it is unique and special, but yet very appropriate for the site and the way it will be used."
One major decision remains to be made on the lodge - a name.
The original concept by David Ciaccio borrowed from the Cobblestone ballroom legacy, suggesting "Cobblestone Inn."
While that has not been ruled out, the new designs tag it simply "The Lodge." Wilson said a final decision will not be made until the management firm for the hotel hires professionals to market the facility - the city wants to hear their ideas.
"When it comes to 'Cobblestone,' I've heard local people speak both wanting us to do that and not wanting us to do that. We haven't decided either way," he said. "What I am most interested in looking for is a name that we will be able to successfully market over a 150-mile area."
Mayor Kruse said that the final plans "meet all of our needs and all of our expectations."
He said he was impressed by their functionality.
Community response has been overwhelming, Kruse added. "So many people have been supportive of this project in our community, and so many have become volunteers at some point. Of course, you are always going to have a few naysayers on anything you do and this is no different. The vast majority, I think, see what this is going to bring for Storm Lake's future."
One citizen, he recalled, told him AWAYSIS will be "a bright shining star for this community."
From his view, leaning against his quiet spot on the wall and listening to the murmurs of approval as knots of supporters browsed the gallery of posterboards, that is not an overstatement.
"This is a huge opportunity, huge," he said.
"Can't wait to get started."