• Sun July 27 2008
  • Posted Jul 27, 2008
By Cindy Iutzi/Gate City Staff Writer Tuesday, July 22, 2008 Several communities and area organizations met with a representative of Vision Iowa to get the scoop about a new financial tool for economic development. Alaina Santizo, Vision Iowa/CAT Program manager, Iowa Department of Economic Development of Des Moines, explained how to use the new $52 million River Enhancement Community Attraction and Tourism Program enacted into law July 1 by the Iowa Legislature. Funding will be available through the next five years. The program is for projects in communities that border rivers, lakes and river corridors to “assist ... in the development, creation and regional marketing of multiple-purpose attraction or tourism facilities,” the legislation says. Coupled with the Community Attraction and Tourism Program, the RECAT grant could help “reinvent and reinvigorate communities with riverfront locations,” Santizo said. Representatives from Keokuk, Montrose, Fort Madison and Donnellson, and area organizations with interests in those communities, attended the meeting. Donnellson is interested in information about the CAT grant, which also was discussed. Santizo said community, area and regional backing for either grant must be comprehensive for the application to be successful with the Vision board. “If a county or another entity refuses to back the project, that's not good,” Santizo said. “County boards have a way of seeing the county as a piece of Swiss cheese. The holes are where the cities are. It's a big deal if the county won't back it.” The amount of money the county board contributes is not as important as the symbolism of the gesture, she said. An amount as little as $5,000 can indicate support. Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katie O'Brien asked if grant funds could be used to help with revamping the parks and Mississippi River attractions that were affected by the recent flood. Santizo said money spent on cleanup efforts between now and the time of application for funds is not applicable as a community match to the grant. Keokuk, Montrose and Fort Madison have projects under consideration that would be eligible for a RECAT grant. Montrose has completed its community Visioning process, and has gathered information and designs necessary for planning. The community applied for a $120,000 Scenic Byway grant and received it more than a year ago. With the 20 percent community match, the total available project funding is $143,000 which is being used to create a master plan. The draft of the master plan includes designs for entry signs, a marsh walk and downtown improvements. “Montrose also is working on rehabilitating the Montrose gym,” said Yvonne Knapp, Lee County Economic Development Group Inc. vice president of operations, planning and programming. “They are looking at the concept design and are looking for support.” The Keokuk community has completed its Visioning process. One of its three primary goals is the expansion and enhancement of the Mississippi riverfront, including but not limited to, Victory Park, Southside Boat Club and the Verity. In March the museum board applied for a federal Scenic Byway Grant of $200,000, requiring a 20 percent match from the community. The board is waiting for word about the grant. Fort Madison has talked in the past about expanding and enhancing its marina by fixing the wing dam, fixing the marina building, expanding the marina and adding slips, said Tracy Vance, executive director of the Fort Madison Chamber of Commerce. Projects considered for the grant are not limited to a minimum or maximum size and should be environmentally friendly if possible in construction and operation, Santizo said. If riverfront and lakefront communities decide to apply as a single entity, the project could be considered in phases. Or, each community could send in its own application and raise funds on its own. Applications can be submitted starting Sept. 19 and will be accepted on a rolling basis. There are no deadlines established yet because the program is new and the board has no idea how much interest the RECAT Progam will have. Funds are required to be awarded in a diverse manner. To date, 92 of Iowa's 99 counties have received CAT grants. Southeast Iowa has not yet had a grant application accepted. The average CAT grant award has been for 20 percent of the total project cost with awards ranging from $7,500 to Wiota to $4 million to Bettendorf. Communities and organizations must raise the remaining funds using federal and local funds, both public and private. The grant “gives the last piece of funding after communities leverage their funding,” Santizo said. “It's a goal to work for. If a community works together, it can get the project that much closer to reality. It gives a community the opportunity to see that it can be done if it works to accomplish its goal.” Recreational opportunities and community attractions can include pedestrian trails and walkways, amphitheaters, bike trails, water trails, whitewater courses for watercraft “and any modifications necessary for the safe mitigation of dams,” the legislation says. Funding provided through the RECAT Program is limited to one-third of the total project cost.

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