A waterlogged Iowa economy and a decision by the governor have created an uncertain future for the program that made Storm Lake's AWAYSIS development possible. Vision Iowa has been suspended in a tidal wave of expense following this year's record flooding, and may be submerged for good.
A Storm Lake woman who served a pivotal role on the Vision Iowa board during its salad years is sad to see it in jeopardy, and hopes for a reprieve.
"I'm sorry to see it stopped. It has been such a positive thing for Iowa - in many cases it was the little bit of help that motivated communities to do something extraordinary," said Lorna Burnside, who served as a Vision Iowa commissioner from 2003-2006.
Sometimes, that help was not so little. Vision Iowa ponied up $9 million for AWAYSIS - the waterfront destination hotel, waterparks, playground and beach development.
According to a Des Moines Register report, Gov. Chet Culver diverted nearly $14 million from the program to help pay for disaster recovery efforts. It is unclear if Culver will put any money back into the program. A spokesperson for the governor would say only that the governor will review all options for next year's legislative session. Until then, dozens of projects will be stranded on hold.
Burnside was not surprised. "With the needs created by nature, where was the money going to come from? And where would the money come from to bring Vision Iowa back?" she said. "I hope it does come back, and if this had not have happened, Vision Iowa would not have died on its own."
The best thing about Vision Iowa is that it was not a handout, said the veteran Buena Vista County Supervisor - it encouraged communities to imagine creative ideas, but required them to mobilize their own support and fundraising to ensure the projects were viable.
"It was slick and clean to a rare degree. If a community didn't support a development plan, Vision Iowa wouldn't fund it," Burnside said. "In the Vision Iowa era, if an idea was good, things happened. It took things from the talking stage to reality all across the state."
Her best memories were meeting the excited people from around Iowa when they came to pitch their plans, or when board members traveled to their communities, she said.
"The star of it all, of course, was seeing what it did for Storm Lake," Burnside said. "It was pretty amazing."
Vision Iowa and the CAT Fund programs helped to pay for programs from $50 million for the Iowa Event Center in Des Moines to community centers in small towns including Aurelia and Marathon, and pool projects in towns including Cherokee. Vision Iowa has given $335 million to 320 projects in the eight years it operated.