The City Council voted at last Monday’s City Council Meeting to postpone the Fieldhouse/Hotel Project at the Mid-America Center so that they could receive additional public input. The developer of this project is an L.L.C. created by the Iowa West Foundation.
Approximately five years ago, Iowa West hired two companies to conduct surveys of the community in order to learn and prioritize needs in the community. This follows our mission to create a more livable community. The first survey was a community needs study and the second was a youth needs study. Both identified the need for indoor recreation, and specifically the need for hard courts for activities like volleyball and basketball. The studies found that there was a significant shortage of gym space for a community of our size and identified this as a high priority.
Based upon the surveys and input from the community, Iowa West studied various options and ways to fulfill this need for indoor hard courts for our community. We commissioned a separate study that identified potential partners and costs associated with building a complex and running the facility. We looked at partnering with governmental entities and we looked at public/private partnerships. Our goal was to construct a facility that was adequate in size to meet the need at a reasonable cost. Another key factor was finding an operator that could operate the facility without the need for additional Iowa West support. We found that some of the proposals with governmental bodies required Iowa West to spend more than we could afford and there were never any assurances that these facilities could operate in the black without additional annual support from the Foundation. After vetting several private providers and looking at various locations, we developed a Memorandum of Understanding with Fieldhouse USA and the City. Fieldhouse USA is a private company that operates a facility paid for initially by the City of Frisco, Texas. Their business model is to run and operate the facility in the black. Fieldhouse USA has demonstrated they can run a facility efficiently and effectively and that the operation can provide well-run recreational space for a community. In addition, they can generate economic activity for the area by running regional and national tournaments and events.
Iowa West Foundation realizes that Fieldhouse USA will charge for use of this facility and we are committed to funding a scholarship program so that people of need will have free or reduced fees to use the facility.
The location next to the Mid-America Center was chosen because of its proximity to other family entertainment venues and because of its potential partnering with the MAC arena for large tournaments and events.
The hotel is also a key part of this project. In order for us to fund the project, Iowa West needs to recoup some of the tax increment financing and the hotel/motel tax to help us pay for some of the up-front construction of the Fieldhouse. Iowa West is required to initially invest $13.7 million dollars to construct the Fieldhouse in order to make this project work. We hope to recoup some of that money back through tax increment financing and hotel/motel tax from the hotel development. The hotel also provides additional synergy and economic development in the area. This will be a select service hotel which should help the convention business at the Mid-America Center and it will provide needed hotel rooms for Fieldhouse events.
The hotel operators have a history of running award-winning hotels. They have also agreed, in writing, as part of this development to give preference to hiring people from Council Bluffs and they will pay wages above the market. We hope the City Council sees this and welcomes it as a good economic development.
We have been working with City staff and the Mayor under conditions set out in a Memorandum of Understanding on this project. These conditions included the TIF projections. Our work and the work of these private partners was done in good faith based on these conditions and we have spent significant money and worked hard to meet all the conditions requested by the City.
We have looked at the parking issue and we believe there will be adequate space around the MAC area to accommodate the need. There may be times when people will need to utilize the surface parking adjacent at Horseshoe Casino and there may also be the need to construct parking on adjacent lots. Iowa West has pledged to work with the City to solve this issue as the need arises. It is our view that having an increased demand for parking space in the area is a good thing and should not be looked at as a liability.
The Fieldhouse would like to be up and running before the winter season so that they can accommodate basketball and volleyball tournaments and leagues throughout the winter of 2016-2017. Since the City Council has invited public comment on this project, we would ask that those of you who expressed the need for a Fieldhouse and indoor gym space to make your opinions known to the City Council members. We have heard the stories about how difficult it is to find gym space and that when the gym space is open, it is at inconvenient times. If this project is approved and if it is successful, we intend to address a second need which was identified in the community and youth studies, and that is indoor soccer.
We would encourage you to contact your City Council members within the next week, prior to their making a decision at the next City Council meeting on April 25th, to let them know how they should vote.