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Supervisors Asked To Support Proposed Community Center

By Staff | May 1, 2012

On April 24, members of the Emmetsburg Community Development Corporation (ECDC) approached the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, seeking monetary support to further an application for an Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) grant, which would bring funding to a proposed community center.

Tony Kauten, representing ECDC, provided a brief history of the project. He shared that in the fall of 2008, the City of Emmetsburg purchased the two-acre property (the former Emmetsburg Country Club) from Wild Rose.

“The city did this with the goal of ensuring public access to the lake,” said Kauten. “The project was then turned over to ECDC.”

Kauten went on to explain that ECDC contacted contractor Dan Cooper and the Construction Technology program at Iowa Lakes Community College to determine the best approach for the future of the building.

“The consensus was that it was better to build new rather than renovating the existing building,” he said.

ECDC conducted a study in 2009 where 70-percent surveyed stated they would use the facility on a daily or monthly basis. However, the size of the building and cost were disputed.

“ECDC put a task force together that investigated other buildings like this in communities similar to ours, and we kept coming back to the Hap Ketelsen Community Center in Everly, which is run by the City of Everly,” said Kauten. “Then ECDC met with an architect to design the building.”

Most recently, the State of Iowa announced that CAT grant funding was ending, which has propelled ECDC to apply for a portion of the remaining funds. On April 11, ECDC presented the proposed community center project to the CAT grant funding board in Mason City. The result of that presentation was that the project needed to show financial support from the previous owners of the property (Wild Rose) and financial support from the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors in the amount of $25,000, which could given spread out over a five-year period. In-kind contributions (donations of time and labor) will not be accepted.

“We have $1.27 million raised thus far, and that’s about half of what we need,” Kauten surmised. “The proposed community center will bring people into our community for wedding receptions, graduations, and other events. Those people will spend money at our gas stations, hotels, and restaurants.”

“Did you ever consider that a private entity could develop it?” asked Supervisor Ed Noonan

“Not that I’m aware, no,” said Kauten.

“This CAT money is going away,” noted Kirk Haack with ECDC. “It’s our only opportunity to capture this money. We have a reasonable chance of capturing it.”

Supervisor Leo Goeders wondered if there had been another proposed building that didn’t cost as much.

“I think you’re thinking of the first building, which actually cost a lot more money than this version,” answered Maureen Elbert, Executive Director of Kossuth/Palo Alto Economic Development.

“How will this building affect the VFW?” asked Goeders.

“The community center is designed to seat 350 people so it won’t conflict with the VFW and Wild Rose,” Haack said.

Goeders wondered when ECDC needed an answer from the Supervisors.

“May 16 is the date of the next meeting of the CAT board, but the sooner the better,” Kauten answered.

Goeders said, “I don’t think most people realize this is the cheaper model.”

“We haven’t done a formal release of this information yet because we haven’t asked for money from the public yet,” Haack said.

Supervisor Ron Graettinger stated that he was not in favor of the project. “The people in my area don’t want this,” he said.

Noonan agreed. He said, “The perception is that Emmetsburg is trying to build something with the taxpayers’ money.”

“I would like to see something presented to the public, so they know what’s going on,” Goeders stated.

Keith Wirtz, chairman of the Supervisors, said. “I took a straw poll at church coffee and I got no support. These people voted me into office and I need to honor that. You need to get more information out.”

Deb Hite, Executive Director of the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce, urged the Supervisors to look to the future and not focus simply on the present.

“We’re willing to do that, but you have need to invite the public to hear and see this,” Goeders reiterated.

“You won’t get anyone here. We’ve had five meetings already and no one comes,” Hite said.

“It’s a beautiful property,” Noonan agreed. “But no one pays taxes on it. The more public property you have the more it takes away from the tax base.”

Dan McCain also spoke in support of the community center. “It leverages a possible half million dollars for this project. Support it, please.”

“I will tell you, the CAT board was very impressed,” noted Elbert. “The impact that this will have on the county economically caused the CAT board to want to see support from the county Supervisors. The clock is ticking. The sooner you respond, the better.”

“If we’re successful with this grant application, these is no debt or bond for the community,” said Haack. “The project should cash flow itself. It will enhance the development around the lake. It’s a win-win.”

Emmetsburg Mayor Myrna Heddinger stated, “Emmetsburg is the county seat. This is an enhancement to Palo Alto County. It was never intended to take away from the VFW or the casino. We have lost six weddings this year alone because the VFW and casino were already booked. “

“I suggest you take this to the city councils,” suggested Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.

Wirtz said, “You have a beautiful lake here, but I have a job to do, too.”

“We’ll need to talk this over,” surmised Noonan, bringing the discussion to a close.