Beach, lighthouse, playground move to spring 2007; federal funding sought
If the term Project AWAYSIS conjures images of placid, serene, unruffled relaxation in a hammock framed by tropical palm tree fronds, think again.
There are a lot of coconuts in the air just now.
So many, in fact, that there is no time or space to create the sprawling playground, beach, jetty-area lighthouse and Great Lawn green space for community activities that had been planned this year.
This week, project manager Mike Wilson said those projects will apparently be pushed back until early spring 2007. While they may not now be ready to debut as planned in one mass event with the lodge and waterpark opening, if all goes perfectly, the other projects could be complete soon afterward.
"It is unlikely that we could get them done this year. Not only are we pushed back on time, there's no place to work on them out there. A lot of material has to be brought on site for the lodge and waterpark - more so than we visualized a year ago. Physically it isn't possible to work on all of these projects at once," Wilson said. "Once the huge slides and towers for the waterpark come in and get laid out on the site, people will see the scale we are working with here."
Progress is now becoming dramatic on the site. Crews from three companies are working a frantic pace for up to 14 hours a day on the dusty beginnings of construction on the lodge and waterpark, while behind the scenes, struggles to cut costs and find additional funding continue - the job is anything but oasis-like. But it is getting done.
On Tuesday, the first concrete was poured for the outdoor pool area of the waterpark, and drainage under the construction site has been completed.
The first forms for walls started going up at midweek for the filter building.
It is in the area where the waterpark will connect to the lodge hotel - the first tangible evidence of the massive structures to come. The shell of that building will be completed before the rest of the projects can take shape.
From muddy days earlier in the site work, the challenge earlier this week became dust - so much so that a water truck had to be requested to spray down the dirt so work could continue. After rains, workers returned to slightly muddy conditions yesterday.
They staked out the east end of the lodge to begin pouring the footings for the 100-room showplace.
"Sometimes it seems like a slow process, but I think it is coming together okay," Wilson said.
There's a lot going on that passers-by can't see, however.
The golf course makeover has been put out to bids, with the bids to be opened on June 15.
"We told the golfers that we would not close the course prior to July 15, so we are looking at getting started on work after that and probably no later than August 1," Wilson said. If nature cooperated, the course should reopen in its new format next spring. A number of companies do such work, and several already have sets of plans in their hands, though it is uncertain how many will choose to bid.
Work on the condo development on the golf course is also going on behind the scenes.
The city will accept proposals to purchase the land for the private development of 30 or more residential units until May 31. If an acceptable offer comes through, the somewhat controversial land sale will go to the council for action June 5.
"We've had a lot of tire-kickers," Wilson said of the potential development. "There are still four or five people we are talking with."
For many, it seems, the condos can't be built fast enough. Long before the first spade of dirt is turned, close to 40 people are on a waiting list to buy in, having expressed some interest previously.
"People realize it is a pretty unique place to live - overlooking both the lake and the golf course. There are very few places like this anywhere, and there won't ever be another like it on Storm Lake," Wilson said.
While the beginnings of the big buildings start to rise, there is a lot of work underneath to make it possible. Lundell Construction is working simultaneously on storm sewer, parking lot and roadbed for the new section of Sunrise Park Road. The new large storm water outlet to the lake is installed, and will consolidate three or four smaller old lines into one sewer that will run we all away from the future beach site. The drainage is already helping construction.
The Iowa Department of Transportation is funding the road project as part of the next fiscal year, so funds to build the new road will not come on line until after July 1. The city is paying for curb and gutter. Construction is now expected to be completed in the fall.
The city and its architectural consultants continue to sweat over the plans for a lodge and waterpark that saw bids run far over estimates. "We still continue to identify some additional cost savings in the lodge, and we are reasonably confident we can find additional cuts there," Wilson said.
Only when that process is done can the city turn to the other components of Project AWAYSIS, he said - the beach, a towering lighthouse with observation deck and concession stands, playground and Great Lawn. If all goes well, materials needed for the projects can be arranged for this fall.
Plans for the nature interpretive center continue to be discussed, but that project, like a skate park proposed earlier, is not currently considered part of the AWAYSIS development.
The AWAYSIS proponents have approached the Vision Iowa program for additional state funding, and called on Senators Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin as well as Rep. Steve King in hopes of landing some federal money.
The outlook is mixed on Vision Iowa, Wilson said.
"We continue to have conversations with them. They are supportive, but we think they are concerned about setting a precedent (by giving a community additional money for the same project they have made an award on earlier). They are afraid that could open the floodgates."
However, the Storm Lake project has actually expanded from the original plan taken to Vision Iowa. For one thing, the lodge has grown from 80 rooms to 100. "The fact that we need additional money is not just because of cost overruns," Wilson said. "We get really great comments from the Vision Iowa people. They say this is a wonderful project and they would like to help, but they don't want to paint themselves into a corner."
The decision is all in the state's hands now. "If we don't get called to another meeting, there won't be any more money. If we do go to a meeting, we may have a chance," Wilson said.
The agenda for the June meeting of Vision Iowa has not yet been set. According to the program's web site, Vision Iowa has only $5 million in funds available this year.
As for the federal money, the best hopes come from the Economic Development and Infrastructure program. Apparently, each Congressman has a share of pull on where funding will go, Wilson says. "We're dealing with big government here. You make your case and hope you hit the hot button that makes your project a priority."
Also, fundraising continues with personalized bricks for sale to recognize donors, families or as memorials. They can be purchased at city hall or from organizers Dick Hakes or Craig Fratzke. The location for the brick donor recognition area within Project AWAYSIS remains to be decided.
As AWAYSIS begins to take shape out of mountains of soil, the project is starting to capture attention statewide and beyond.
For the company chosen to manage the resort, that is good news.
"We commend The City of Storm Lake for spearheading a first-class resort project and are excited to be part of it," said Steve Olson, CEO of Leisure Group of Companies. "Storm Lake is totally committed to tourism - it understands the value of the lake and what a resort can mean to the community."
Olson noted that few lakes in Iowa are available for recreation, and Storm Lake and the water parks will particularly appeal to the growing numbers of young families in the area, Olson predicts.
"This is the most important economic development project that the City has ever undertaken," he said.