Council still split on plan for Park Inn

 
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Note: Printed with Permission from The Globe-Gazette, article by John Skipper.
MASON CITY - In July, officials of Heartland Properties Inc. told City Council members they wanted to see council consensus before they proceeded with the Park Inn restoration project.
On Monday, the president of Heartland saw firsthand that the council is a long way from consensus.
Two votes concerning the old Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel resulted in 3-3 ties.
In a special workshop session, Heartland President Ruth Domack updated council members on the status of her company's proposal to restore the last remaining hotel built by Wright.
She said Heartland has followed through on three commitments it made earlier this year - to put a development team together, to come up with cost estimates and to execute site control.
Estimated cost was $3.6 million for the Park Inn restoration, $2.6 million for the City National Bank work and about $900,000 for the best parking option.
The city would be responsible for the parking.
After Domack's presentation, council members discussed Councilman Ken Lee's proposal for the city to purchase the building, to begin repair work using money from a $200,000 state grant and eventually selling the property to a developer.
Domack's preference was for the city to proceed with Heartland.
But she said if the city chose to purchase the property, Heartland would still be interested in being the eventual developer.
"I would have no problem with that because I need to know the city is behind this project," she said. "I think it's a wonderful way for the city to show its support."
Lee pressed his case for a city purchase.
"I thought it would be to everyone's advantage to take possession of the property, have the dollars on hand to start restoration and that would give us time to consider other options," he said.
Councilman Art Wolover also favors purchasing the property.
He said he is concerned that with Heartland, the only use for the upper floors is low and moderate income housing.
"I've heard a lot of 'what ifs' out there. What if it was a bed and breakfast? What if the Mason City Foundation got involved? What else is out there? I believe that by acquiring the building, we can explore all the options," he said.
Councilwoman Lori Henry agreed it would be best for the city to be in the position of looking at all possibilities.
But Councilman Roger Bang said, "If Heartland buys it, an owner who knows what they're doing does the restoration. During the restoration, Heartland can be working with city officials to determine the extent of city involvement and Heartland takes the lead on fund-raising.
"I'm 100 percent comfortable with Heartland. If the city of Mason City took ownership, what would we do? How would we do it? Here, for the first time in decades, we have someone interested who knows what they're doing," he said.
Councilman Max Weaver said he too thought Heartland was the best option. "Before we do anything, let's find out how all of these other options impact funding sources out there. That ought to be easy enough to do. Then we'd know."
Weaver made a motion to table any consideration until more information was available.
He got the support of Bang and of Councilman Lee Snell who agreed more information was needed. With Wolover, Henry and Lee voting against tabling it, the motion lost on the 3-3 vote.
The council then voted on Lee's motion for the staff to prepare a recommendation on the purchase of the Park Inn that would include a feasibility study on best use of the property and sending out requests for proposals.
That also resulted in a 3-3 tie with Wolover, Henry and Lee in favor and Bang, Snell and Weaver against.
Heartland's Domack said after the meeting, "We had anticipated buying the property. Now we're in a holding pattern. I'm not disappointed. I've been around the block too many times to be disappointed. This was a debate over what's best for Mason City and there's nothing wrong with that."

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