THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Opportunities missed, so far...

Monday, January 21, 2002

The latest batch of awards are in for the Vision Iowa program's Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) fund.

Six more worthy projects, bringing the total to 37 projects successfully funded across the state.

Congratulations to the cities winning funding; they have earned it with creative planning and aggressive effort.

So, where is Storm Lake and Buena Vista County?

The sad thing isn't that the city - the entire area - hasn't landed a single dollar in this wonderful program. The sad thing is that Storm Lake and the surrounding cities haven't even managed to put a single project on the table for consideration in all this time.

Avoca has been handed money toward an aquatic center. Storm Lake has known the need to replace an outmoded pool for years and years. In fact, the Avoca project sounds very much like what Storm Lake proponents have talked about for an aquatic center that might have gone to a vote this winter for spring construction.

Denison gets $215,000 to construct a new grandstand at the Crawford County Fairgrounds. The Buena Vista County Fair has had that exact same need for years.

Estherville gets a million bucks toward a recreation center - with an indoor pool, track and fitness center. That sounds something like the Storm Lake community center project that has been proposed in three different forms over the past five years.

Glenwood gets $1.3 million for a community/recreation center with a new gym. We are certain its young people will appreciate it.

Harlan gets cash for an activity center that will include a new senior citizens center. That too will sound familiar to Storm Lake, where senior accessibility and space has been an issue for a year.

And Henderson - that's right, the Henderson with a total population of 171 souls - has won Vision Iowa to create a community center that will double for community education needs.

All of the small towns in Buena Vista County and the surrounding region who have thought such things impossible should take note.

We do not mean to sound jealous here. All of the projects in this funding round sound like excellent ones for their communities. And again, Storm Lake and Buena Vista County haven't been shortchanged - because they haven't submitted anything to get funded.

In the meantime, Storm Lake and Buena Vista County residents have certainly paid their share of state taxes to form the big kitty that is paying out development dollars all over the state. It would not be in our best interests to continue helping to fund community projects everywhere else without at least taking a shot for our own share of the pie.

A mayor's committee has been meeting toward the latest incarnation of a community center plan. The meetings have not been open to the public, but the word is that a formal statement on the feasibility of such a project will be forthcoming.

An aquatic center committee has been meeting for some time too, but has put its work on hold in the anticipation that an indoor-outdoor pool could be folded into the community center plan.

Combining the ideas may be new, but the need for a modern pool facility and someplace healthy for families to enjoy in Storm Lake have been established for years.

When the project comes out, it should get the full attention of the community, and it should also be packaged to appeal to the Vision Iowa/CAT program. It should also not be the only proposal to come out of this region.

The program is earmarked to continue, relying on bonds generated by the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund. But we should not be cavalier and assume that the program will always be there with the cash when we are finally ready to ask. In these uncertain times and headed into an era of great political change in Iowa, even this program may not be eternal, especially at the generous level of spending of its first years.

As Governor Vilsack said this month, "To grow our state, it is so vital that each town and city recognize areas for improvement and find the resources necessary to fill their specific voids."

We have discussed to great length the state's need to attract and retain young families, and to find ways to bring diverse communities together.

We know where those voids are in the Storm Lake area, we've known them for years.

It's our time to get a creative and ambitious plan to the board, as 37 other towns have already successfully done before us.

You can't get progress funded if you don't try. This year should be THE year for Storm Lake's efforts.