The $3 million State Marina in Storm Lake, the first development of its kind for Iowa, will open around April 1. After the site is in full operation, Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials plan to host a public dedication event still to be scheduled.
Bob Kelly, who has contracted to operate the marina for at least its first five years, said he received the key to the finished site about three weeks ago, and he will begin outfitting the builidngs in the next two to three weeks.
"It's a bit of a learn as you go process, since this is the first official State Marina that Iowa has ever built, but we know how to do this," Kelly says.
The State Marina includes the new waterfront building that will house a boat showroom, convenience store and snack stand, bait shop with a six-foot live bait tank, and eventually a restaurant for indoor and outdoor dining.
A separate matching building houses boat repair and storage. Structures are done in dusky blue, with stone, wood and earth tone touches to fit in with the area's environment.
Two 21-foot pontoon boats will be flagships of the rental fleet that may expand later.
The site has now been approved to serve as an Iowa fishing and hunting license sales station.
The Mercury Marine master mechanic purchased Shamrock Boat Sales at Carnavon from his employer in 2003, and has seen the workforce double for that successful business. His daughter will return from college this spring to assist in the operation of the Storm Lake marina. The Shamrock boat mechanics will staff the facility, and local seasonal workers will be hired.
Their operation will be service-oriented. "You can't fake great service," Bob said.
The project began with the difficult chore of removing the old marina bay island and dredging the area. This made room for a new innovative docking complex with 84 fixed slips all with electrical power, eight disability-accessible slips, and an all-accessible wooden fishing pier near the DNR building. A new east entrance and drive with cobbled parking slots and handicapped spaces was added, plys benches park style lights around the bay, and a drinking fountain. A pair of new boat ramps were added. Shoreline stabilization was done, and cleanup of forested areas and the peninsula. A new main entry was built with two large wood and stone signs, and parking lot with new lighting was added.
Some of the plans for the area had to be put off pending additional funding. Several rustic tourist cabins are planned, along with a new small beach, trails, and a picnic shelter or gazebo.
Development was thrown well behind schedule by weather a year ago and construction concerns with the demise of Recency Commercial Development, which had built the first building on the site but went belly up before the second building began. The project remained on budget.
"We are very pleased with this investment the state is making in Storm Lake," says Julie Sievers, Storm Lake officer for the DNR. "Basically it is done and ready for the concessionaire to move in. There's just a small amount of work to do this spring, and a lot of seeding."
The State Marina was inspired by Storm Lake's own dredging project, and the prospects of increased tourism and recreation. Design and architectural cues were picked up from the King's Pointe resport development across the lake - in hopes that the two projects will complement one another.
"We are really anxious to get everything open and help get people on the lake for the spring. It seems like this has been a long time coming, but we think it will be worth the wait," says Seivers.
The project was originally to have been done for spring 2008, then scheduled to be ready for July 4th last summer.
"The main goal here is to give more people the opportunity to experience this wonderful lake resource. The marina we had at Casino Beach was never really ideal, and the area had deteriorated over the years and needed a lot of clean up. Until the State Marina concept, the project had just never quite found a home in the state budget," Seivers said.
While it was originally anticipated that the Storm Lake project might serve as a blueprint for other State Marinas to follow, officials are now not so sure. No other such marina is currently planned.
"With the state financial picture being what it is, it remains to see if there will be any more of them," Seivers said. "I think we can consider it a very good thing that we have finished this when we did."
Although the economy may be difficult, Kelly feels the timing may be ideal for the new marina. "This is a very nice facility the state has made for Storm Lake, and with people choosing to recreate closer to home, and better fuel prices this year, people are going to be ready to get out and enjoy this lake. The community has done such a good job getting the lake cleaned out, and it is really excellent for fishing as well as recreation sports."
Shamrock has been in business since 1941, and is considered a good "catch" by the DNR.
"It was difficult to find an operator for the marina. For one thing - they have to be able to pretty much run the show - operating the shops, boat sales, repair, storage, hoists. And the other difficulty is that the state policy currently allows us only to offer a five year contract," says Don Labate, who is heading up the State Marina project for the Department of Natural Resources. "The contact is potentially extendable, but there aren't many people who would be willing to put in this kind of investment and then not have any guarantees."
For the Kellys, the decision was a natural one. They have had a number of clients from Storm Lake in both boating sales and service over the years in the Lake Black Hawk region, and see the opportunity to be part of the State Marina project as a rare chance to extend their services to more northwest Iowa outdoors lovers.
They have their work cut out - the buildings are just finished shells - they must build service counters and outfit the offices, move in equipment for the shops and transport the boat inventory to Storm Lake.
"We are looking forward to it, and we hope people will bear with us," Kelly said.
The showroom will open with five-10 new boats at a time, plus some used models on site. Stock will rotate with that of the Carnavon facility. Repair boats can be transported back and forth to Shamrock also, if needed for difficult projects.
Some life jackets, skis, tubes and other nautical accessories will be offered for sale, with stock expected to grow over time.
One thing the new marina won't have is alcohol.
"We fought that battle and lost," Kelly said. He is concerned that the inability to sell alcoholic beverages could hurt business, but after some discussion, DNR officials opted for a no liquor sales policy for State Marinas. "You will notice however that they sure sell beer and alcohol at the Honey Creek development, though," Kelly said. "To be honest, this is one issue that is slowing us a little bit in developing the restaurant at our site, especially in this economy."