After being given a briefing on a federal program on Dec. 13 that could affect a large portion of Emmetsburg's downtown area, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors learned more about the proposal during their Dec. 20 meeting. Emmetsburg Community Development Director Steve Heldt was joined by Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Deb Hite and Chamber President Dan McCain to discuss the issue further at the board meeting.
Hite began the discussion by referring to results of a team visit from the Iowa Department of Economic Development to Emmetsburg last year, and some of the findings of the team. "From that team visit and the interviews that they did with over 120 individuals, we learned that there were a couple of issues regarding the downtown area that they identified," Hite noted. "First was the growth of trees was affecting our sidewalks and secondly, they were impressed with the number of historical buildings in the downtown. And, they viewed the lake as an incredible asset."
According to Hite, the team noted that many of the historical properties in the downtown area have experienced various degrees of alterations that have affected their historic integrity. But along with those changes, recent investments in some properties indicate that considerable value is still placed on the downtown area.
"We want to develop a "wow" factor for people who are driving through when they see our community, so they will think we are vibrant and growing," Hite said, as she presented the Supervisors with a graphic that explained the costs of a vacant store on a Main Street, noting that such a vacant building would have a value of $419,000, taking into consideration lost sales, payroll, rental income, property taxes, utilities and advertising.
"This is really a one-time opportunity to get people involved in our community," Hite noted. "AGP has purchased $250,000 in Emmetsburg Chamber Bucks in the past few years, and we have been told that AGP needs our downtown for its employees."
Board chair Keith Wirtz acknowledged he could see the value of a vibrant downtown area, but recalling that Heldt had mentioned a possible investment by the county of $41,000 a week earlier, he was not sure how he could justify such an expenditure to other communities in the county.
"Emmetsburg's downtown situation is not unique," pointed out Dan McCain. "It's just like many other rural towns. We believe we are at the perfect time to move forward with our community. By making an investment now, hopefully we won't have to tear down more of our history."
Heldt reminded the board that the federal program was dependent on local involvement to show the support of the local community for the project.
"Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities has committed $125,000 and the City of Emmetsburg has committed $85,000, with about $60,000 through TIF funds," Heldt explained. "We're asking for $50,00, which would be 10 percent of the total amount of the federal funds."
"My concern is that I need to look out for the people of the county," Wirtz reiterated. "I do think it's a good project, though."
"You have to look at it with the thought that one community has 42 percent of the population of the county living in it," McCain answered. "Your board has done things like this before on a much higher cost per person. Why wouldn't we support other communities if they tried to do something similar? We would. We all live in this county."
Supervisor Leo Goeders weighed in. "I don't think we should pass this opportunity up, even if it is pointed at Emmetsburg. We're a community and we all have to look at it that way."
"I agree," Supervisor Ed Noonan chimed in. "I think it's a good project, too. I'd like to see it done."
"This is a competitive grant process," McCain told the board. "We don't have it in the pocket yet. Even with everyone on board, we'd still have a story to tell to get this grant."
According to Heldt, the grant process will involve some 20,000 communities applying for the project, with perhaps just four of five communities actually receiving the funding.
Due to time constraints on Tuesday, the board agreed to continue its discussion on participation in the project on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at its regular meeting.