OTTUMWA — On the sporting level, the City of Ottumwa is now “on the clock”.
Board members of the Ottumwa SportsPlex project approached City Council at Tuesday’s meeting at City Hall with a request for $500,000, an undetermined amount of funding for site preparation work and a ground lease of $1 per year for 100 years in Sycamore Park as part of the overall $9 million project.
Many other entities – Wapello County, Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, Ottumwa Schools, JBS – had already committed various funding for the project. The city is still evaluating its list of projects it can use with American Rescue Plan Act funding, and the inner complex is one of them. The council did not respond to the request.
“I know any time you have a big project of this nature there will obviously be some trepidation as to whether it’s going to work,” said TJ Heller, chairman of the South East Athletics Commission. Iowa. “For me, we did our due diligence. We don’t build until it pays off.”
The indoor complex would be complete, with three full-size basketball courts, four volleyball courts, a grass soccer field, a grass soccer field, and softball and baseball diamonds, among other amenities. It would be located next to The Beach, in a critical center of the city.
Athletics Commission Vice Chairman Brian Morgan spoke from three perspectives – as county supervisor, resident and parent.
“As a county, we voted to fund up to $2.5 million because we wanted to know how we could take that money and put it to work,” he said. “And this facility will help increase our local option sales tax and put our heads to bed.
“The first meeting I’ve been to for any type of establishment like this was in 2002 when we had the possibility of a casino coming. It’s not the first time something has happened, but it’s the farthest we’ve ever gotten because it always gets bogged down.”
Morgan said the total demand from the city would be around $800,000, including site work and the lease.
As a parent, Morgan took her kids — and her money — to out-of-town tournaments. He thinks it’s time for the city to bring in more money from out of town on a regular basis.
“There’s a pile of money leaving this town. This facility is about the economy here,” he said. “These facilities are the backbone of rural America. There aren’t many economic engines left, and that’s what brings families to town these days.”
Heller said no one expects the facility to make money immediately, and the commission’s fundraising structure has built it into that scenario. The burden of making it work is on the efforts of the commission, not the taxpayers.
“Our pro forma shows that we are really losing money in the first three years. It will cost about $7.5-8 million to build,” Heller said. “We subsidize that, because we have a maintenance fund, an operating fund, a team of consultants to come and run the installation for us and train our people from day one. It’s all integrated.”
Board member Doug McAntire agreed with the resort idea, but had concerns about a 100-year lease, as well as potential competition with the YMCA for services, but Heller did not share those concerns.
“If you’re going to swim or lift weights, you don’t come to us to do it. It’s really a cooperation because we can help expand some of the programs they have. They’re landlocked, so we’re actually work together,” he said. “When it comes to the lease, it’s common that if something isn’t working, there are amendments built into that lease so that it can be resolved.
In other cases:
• The city received a check for $200,000 from the Bridge View Center Board of Directors. It’s the largest donation Bridge View has made to the city, Mayor Rick Johnson said.
“We started giving in March 2009 and to date $1.58 million has been donated,” said board member Jamie Scott. “I know COVID has been a tough year, so hopefully this $200,000 helps.”