Am I the only one who flinched a little bit reading the story of the plan to convert South School into apartments?
It's not the plan that makes me take pause - the company involved has done such conversions several times, and gaining some much-needed housing rather than blowing money to demolish a vacant old building is a slam-dunk of a choice.
But when the developer said he figured Storm Lake's working class population could afford about $960 per month for rent, I nearly swallowed my gum.
I've taken a peek at other projects the company does. They are nice, modern-looking apartments, one or two-bedrooms.
But they are still modest-sized units in an apartment building, with no garages, and with parking hard to come by when the schools or the churches in the area are in session.
I do hope they are not married to that $960 in order to make this project do-able.
I'm not any kind of an expert here, but it didn't take long to look up Census data, which says that the median gross rent for Buena Vista County housing 2010-2014 was $581.
Sioux City's current median apartment price is $655, Des Moines is $872, and even in Kansas City, where the developer is located, rentals are available much lower than this - at a median of $831.
Granted, we don't know all the particulars here yet. If cable, internet, heat, water and all are provided, no stiff deposits are charged, and leases are month to month, people would no doubt be willing to spend a bit more than the norm for an apartment. If amenities like laundry and basic furnishings were included in the apartments, maybe quite a chunk more.
But the $960 would be exactly on the cost the median homeowner in Buena Vista County pays per month on all costs for their house, including a mortgage. It's hard to visualize people paying out house kind of money for a one or two-bedroom apartment in the old school.
It is also an unfortunate fact that income and pay in Storm Lake is not a match for urban levels. Per capita income in 2014 dollars was about $23,700, thousands below state average. At $960, rent per year would total over $11,500 - basically half that theoretical single person's entire pay.
Not that every living option has to be geared toward the average person, mind you. We have some apartments reserved for low-income, and we have condos that would not be in everyone's budget. It's good for a community to have a variety of housing for various income levels, and there is some truth to the trickle-down theory in housing - if one person or family moves into a new upscale house or apartment, it can open up a mid-level place for someone else, and they in turn may vacate an entry level place for a newcomer to make their home in.
Our concern isn't the price Foutch Brothers charges for an apartment. It's their project, they have every right to charge as much as they think they can pull in Storm Lake, and if they are right that people will stand in line to live in South School, and stay there long term, at close to a grand a month per, more power to them.
The concern is whether, as research moves forward on this project, the dollars will pencil out and assure success at the rental rate the company plans to charge. It apparently needs $600,000 in income from the renters to cover costs and offset the debt for the project.
Why the concern? This is not your average, every-day apartment house project, where it's no skin off your nose or mine if units sit empty.
We have a vested interest here, every one of us in and around Storm Lake.
Because, and the Foutches have been quite up front about this, if the dollars don't end up penciling out at the necessary profit, they can and they will walk away.
Which would leave Storm Lake with a vacant building, six months more deteriorated, out whatever legal costs of setting up the potential sale, with very little prospects for another viable buyer.
And that means the school district would have little choice but to tear it down, possibly within a year, at an unbudgeted cost that could exceed $300,000.
That's $300,000 that comes out of taxpayers' pockets, and doesn't do a bit of good to educate anybody in any Storm Lake classroom. And that, Storm Lake, is what we don't want to have happen here.
If this project were to flop, as the fancy Regency condo plan did, we would also be out future property tax revenue that helps to run fire trucks, fix streets and mow parks in our community - not to mention space for growth to the tune of 40 or so individuals and families. All we'd be doing is sending a lot of cement and splintered wood to landfills.
So, it is in our own best interests to wish the developers great success with South School, and to hope that their funding plan, a complex puzzle of rental income, historic renovation tax credits, grants, loans and perhaps some local tax and utility concessions, works out as they plan.
The developers know their business, they've done this before, and done it successfully.
But we know a little about Storm Lake, and what flies here. And we would feel a lot more comfortable if the formula for success were at, say, $660 a month instead of $960.