MASON CITY — Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham was in Mason City today to see first-hand the progress on the River City Renaissance project. It’s part of the Iowa Reinvestment Act, a special program that allows cities to create special development districts where a portion of the sales and hotel-motel taxes can be set aside to help fund projects that spur economic development.
Durham says despite some bumps in the road in getting things started, the IEDA was fully in support of the Mason City project. “Well I want you to know that we never wavered in our support of Mason City in this project, and yeah there were some missteps at the beginning, but you know that’s not untypical to be honest. When you’re trying to put together a deal as complicated with as many moving parts as you have here, I wouldn’t say that’s uncommon. We never wavered in our support of the project or support that at the end of the day Mason City would deliver great projects, which you always do, and I think today is a testament to that.”
Durham says some of the issues Mason City had in getting the project moving were common with other Iowa Reinvestment Act projects. “Absolutely, in fact I’ll use my own hometown Sioux City, I still live in Sioux City, and they had several changes to theirs as well. They just broke ground on the arena, which was kind of their pivotal point or the major element of their reinvestment district, and that that just is happening right. So you’re even further along than they are. We’ve seen that, we’ve seen some slow up on Waterloo. We’re still waiting to see what they’re going to do with the marina piece.”
The initial $100 million of funding for the Iowa Reinvestment Act has been allocated, and Durham says there’s talks in the legislature of once again funding the program, but she says she has some concerns that would need to be addressed moving forward. “You’re basing all of this on proformas. So let’s be honest, every proforma I’ve ever looked at is wrong, the question is how wrong is it right? So as your community will tell you, we put these communities under extreme scrutiny to really make that proforma as conservative as possible, because it doesn’t come back to the state, it actually comes back locally if there is a shortfall at the end of the day. We just won’t know that until the program is spent.”
Durham says she likes what she’s been seeing recently in the Mason City-Clear Lake area. “It seems like you guys are really hitting it on all cylinders here I have to tell you. I even like the things that the program the Chambers are doing, the “Breaking the Glass”, showing more diversity in leadership here. Those are the things that are so important. I’m impressed with what’s going on, and you can feel it. There’s an energy here today that I can say I haven’t felt as strong in years when the past times I’ve been here. This is a rallying cry for people, they do get to see it and say your leaders are making good decisions, this was a good thing for the community, and so yeah I think you should feel pretty good about where you’re at right now.”
Durham was the keynote speaker for the “State of North Iowa” presentation from the Mason City Chamber of Commerce held at the Mason City Multi-purpose Arena. You can hear our full conversation with Durham via the audio player below. You can also hear it as well as her speech from today’s event during next Wednesday morning’s “Ask the Mayor” program on AM-1300 KGLO starting at about 9:10 AM.