Park Inn price tag: $7.2M

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Note: Printed with Permission from The Globe-Gazette, article by John Skipper.
MASON CITY - In July, Tom Aller, an Alliant Energy board member, told City Council members it would take political courage for the council to agree to restore two Frank Lloyd Wright buildings downtown.
On Tuesday, they learned the cost of courage - up to $7.15 million.
That's the projected cost to restore the old Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank properties on West State Street and provide necessary parking. The project is being proposed by Alliant, through its subsidiary, Heartland Properties Inc.
There are many details to be worked out, but council members directed city planners to immediately begin applying for state grants.
One of the details the council learned Tuesday is that the city's financial commitment is likely to be higher than that of Heartland Properties Inc., the project's primary sponsor. Preliminary figures show Heartland putting up $800,000 with the city's share more than $900,000.
"I had no idea it was going to cost $7 million but I knew those buildings were in tough shape," said Councilman Lee Snell. "It's just like the Civil War statue. You can guess at what it's going to cost but you don't know until you get into it. An estimate is exactly that - an estimate."
Heartland has offered to restore the old Park Inn structure, now housing the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, and the old City National Bank building, now occupied by Moorman Clothiers and McCoy Accounting. Heartland wants to convert the upper floors of the Park Inn to moderate-income housing. The council had previously supported the project and committed to providing at least 10 parking places.
The estimated total cost of the project in January was $1.7 million to $2.5 million.
Originally, Heartland expressed interest in restoring just the hotel. Then in July, Alliant's Aller told council members that Alliant was interested in the project only if it included the bank and the hotel. Also, those involved in the project told of extensive interior repair work that was going to increase the cost.
Some of those costs include:
* On the Park Inn project, $1.6 million for acquisition and stabilization of the property, $1.75 million for historical restoration, and $250,000 in other costs for a total of $3.6 million.
* On the City National Bank project, $2.2 million in acquisition, restoration and possible relocation costs and $400,000 in assorted related costs for a total of $2.6 million.
* Parking: Creating parking space adjacent to the buildings on the west side at an estimated cost of $954,000.
Heartland (through Alliant Investments) will put up $800,000. Various grants are expected to supply about $600,000. The state has already allocated $200,000 in grant money. If the city decides on the recommended parking option, a funding gap of about $4.8 million will remain.
Community Development Director Tarek Moneir said additional state and federal grant money, as well as money from foundations, are all possibilities. He said the recently formed Historical Overlay District Commission in Mason City is considering establishing a foundation.
Dean Baumgardner of Heartland Properties told council members several steps are necessary for the project to move forward. He said the council must reach a consensus on the project, including the parking commitment. Also, decisions must be made on raising the remaining millions, and on setting up a tax abatement or tax increment financing on the Park Inn. City policy prohibits doing both on the same project.
Councilman Snell said he wants the city to continue to negotiate. "I think Heartland will up their ante. We need to keep talking. We can't afford to lose this," he said.
Councilman Roger Bang said, "I'm very optimistic from what I see so far. Mason City will be notorious for this, one way or another. I hope we're notorious in a positive sense."
Councilman Ken Lee wants Alliant to be a bigger player. "In round numbers this is about an $8 million project. I'd like to see them putting up about 25 percent with the city matching it, and then we go look for the rest," he said.
Councilman Max Weaver commented about the time of Tuesday's meeting - 10 a.m. - and the setting - the meeting room at City Hall. "We're asking the public to have courage. Let's have these meetings at a time when the public can come and hold them in a place more comfortable than this," he said. Weaver has consistently warned that the cost of the project has increased with each meeting.
A workshop originally planned for Thursday will be rescheduled because Bang cannot attend.
Property owners and city officials, working with a consultant, came up with five parking options for the proposed restoration of the Park Inn:
* Purchase the nearby Bank of America lot and put in decked parking; cost: $1.5 million.
* Construct a lot adjacent to the west side of the hotel, which would entail removing the back portion of some of the buildings; cost: $2.3 million.
* Create parking east of Southbridge Mall; cost: $1.2 million.
* Build a lot adjacent to the hotel, taking out the bank drive-up window which would be relocated (favored by Community Development Director Tarek Moneir and a study group); cost: $954,000.
* Utilize the parking already available at the south end of the mall, which the study group rejected because of its distance from the hotel.

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