SIOUX CITY | The opportunity was too good to pass up.
Through the Iowa Economic Development Authority's competitive Reinvestment District Program, millions of dollars in state funding sat available for the right combination of projects that could transform the look and feel of a city.
It was March of 2015 when Sioux City put in its initial application for nearly $14 million of state funds. More than two years later, in August of this year, it at long last received contingent approval to receive most of its original request, about $13.5 million.
The state's approval of this large-scale financial award, which will assist a quartet of projects that could dramatically change the face of Sioux City's downtown, is The Journal's top story of 2017.
All told, the Reinvestment District project will involve approximately $134 million of investment from private and public entities for the projects over the next several years. One project, a four-building mixed-use development called Virginia Square, is about 50 percent complete.
The other projects, each of which could begin next year, include the following:
--A five-story, 150-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel that will adjoin the Sioux City Convention Center downtown. The project also includes renovations at the city-owned convention center and construction of a 140-space parking ramp.
--An ag expo center in the city’s former stockyards area that will host a wide range of ag-related events as well as athletic contests.
--Redevelopment of the historic Warrior Hotel and Davidson Building in the 500 block of Sixth Street into a combination hotel and residential/commercial/retail complex.
City leaders say if all four are completed, the impact on the city could be a game-changer.
"I think it’s going to create a lot of activity in downtown Sioux City – positive activity – when you get that kind of construction going with those buildings that I think people will frequent and use," Mayor Bob Scott said.
Iowa's Reinvestment District Program, founded in 2014, permits cities to establish zones of up to 25 acres where future hotel-motel and sales tax money can be diverted to big-ticket, unique projects designed to increase tourism and quality of life. Sioux City applied in the second and final year funding was available through the program.
"We realized it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," city economic development director Marty Dougherty said.
Initially, the state approved a smaller $8.03 million award for the city, as it split available funding among five cities' projects. But more funds became available after a project in Davenport fell through, and Sioux City re-applied for the full amount.
The state board granted just $400,000 fewer than the city requested in August.
The city will pay back the $13.5 million over a 20-year period using the state's portion of the hotel-motel and sales tax generated by the new construction. That period will begin for Sioux City on Oct. 1, 2019.
Final state approval remains contingent on documentation of construction documents for the Bomgaars Ag Expo project, a development agreement and documentation of financing for the Warrior project and a development agreement and documentation of financing for the additional component of the Virginia Square project.
Sioux City's original application proposed to leverage that funding to complete three projects: three Virginia Square buildings, the ag center and convention hotel. Plans changed in 2017 to add a fourth Virginia Square building, which could become an extended-stay hotel, and the Warrior project.
The $56 million Warrior project is the latest of a series of proposals to revitalize the two buildings, which are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since the late 1990s, the boarded-up structure has been red-tagged by the city for building code violations.
Developer Lew Weinberg's company has agreed to a deal with a St. Louis-based firm to develop the 200,000 square feet of combined space into a 146-room Marriott Autograph hotel, luxury apartments, bars, restaurants and other retail outlets.
The current project could begin in May or June of next year, according to Roger Caudron, a spokesman for Weinberg. Caudron said construction is anticipated to take between 16 and 18 months.
Scott said the Warrior project is the one he's most excited to see because of how long it has sat there. Combined with a separate project that will revitalize the nearby Commerce Building, he believes it will be a large lift to the area.
The other Marriott hotel project within the district sparked debate earlier this year, when the proposal to build a five-story Courtyard by Marriott hotel on the parking lot next door to the convention center was met with skepticism for multiple reasons.
Some hotel owners, faced with dwindling occupancy rates, said they feared an increase in hotel room supply without an increase in demand. Some community members feared the loss of parking for the nearby Promenade Cinema 14 movie theater.
The council ultimately voted 4-1 to advance the project, with Scott dissenting.
Meanwhile, plans for the Bomgaars Ag Expo Center in the city's former stockyards area underwent significant changes. The Siouxland Expo Center Board, the nonprofit heading the project, saw a change in leadership and a change in focus for the project, which has been in the works for years.
At the recommendation of city management, the project grew to not only include equestrian and ag events but also sporting events. New designs include the addition of temporary turf and removable sports flooring -- capable of creating up to three small soccer fields or six regulation basketball courts -- to accommodate soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball games and practices, as well as some larger trade shows and events.
These additions have, according to organizers, boosted cash flow projections into the positive by allowing more rental and usage in the off-season. They will also help meet Sioux City's growing need for additional recreational facilities to hold sports clinics, tournaments, practices and camps.
SIOUX CITY | Siouxland spirit -- and dollars -- flowed rapidly Friday to the owners of a Sioux City honey business victimized by vandalism that killed their half million bees.
Justin Englehardt, who runs Wild Hill Honey with his wife, Tori, said Friday the couple "absolutely" plans to restock their hives as early as this spring in light of the public's generosity.
"We are salvaging what we can," Englehardt told the Journal.
How much honeycomb remains will be a major factor in the recovery process, he added, saying, "The wealth of a beekeeper is in his comb."
In an interview 24 hours earlier, Englehardt conceded the outlook "looked really hopeless" and doubted the business could survive such a large financial hit.
As police continued Friday to investigate the crime and pursue leads, the Englehardts rejoiced in the outpouring of community support they've received since The Journal first reported the vandalism. Justin Englehardt said he was amazed by the number of people who flooded his phone with calls and texts and donated to online Go Fund Me accounts established in the couple's names.
As of 7:30 p.m. Friday, a Go Fund Me account approved by the Englehardts had raised about $23,800 from 649 donors.
"Holy smokes," Englehardt said after a Journal reporter shared that $7,400 had been pledged as of noon Friday. "That is amazing. We are really, really grateful for all the support."
In setting up the Wild Hill-approved account, Todd LaCroix of Sioux City wrote, "Tori and Justin are wonderful people who have just suffered a terrible loss. The destruction of their bees and equipment is not only a financial hardship but has taken an emotional toll as well. Unfortunately, insurance will not cover the loss of the bees and equipment. Any help is appreciated."
A donor who posted a comment on the account said, "I hope that donations and support can get you back up and running."
"Yeah, we'll keep it going," Englehardt told the Journal. "(The donors) will keep us going, actually."
Two smaller Go Fund Me accounts set up in Wild Hill's name had raised $4,838 and $2,568, respectively as of 7:30 p.m., bringing the grand total to $31,200 in less than a day.
Wild Hill's losses were estimated Thursday at $50,000 to $60,000. The hives were not covered by insurance.
Justin Engelhardt discovered the damage after he went to dust snow off the 50 hives, located in a grove on an 18-acre property just south of West High School. The beekeepers' supply shed had been ransacked. Worse, the miscreants had knocked over every single hive, fatally exposing the 500,000 bees to the bitter cold conditions.
After hearing about the public generosity, Engelhardt first predicted the business could start selling honey again by July. After noticing his wife shaking her head, he walked that back a bit, saying sales definitely would resume by 2019.
Wild Hills, started six years ago, markets jars of pure, raw and creamed varieties of honey and other honey byproducts at Pierce Street Coffee Works, Sioux City Gifts, Palmer’s Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe, trade shows and other spaces.
The Engelhardts are among the rare beekeepers from a northern state who keep their hives at home during the winter. During cold weather months, most large commercial beekeepers transport their bees to California or Texas to gather nectar from crops there.
Since 2006, when scientists identified what's known as colony collapse disorder, many beekeepers have lost a third or more of their colonies each year. Government studies blame a combination of factors for the mysterious and dramatic losses, including increased use of pesticides, shrinking habitat, multiple viruses, poor nutrition and genetics.
The continuing losses threaten an estimated $30 billion worth of crops annually that depend on pollination.
SIOUX CITY | Siouxlanders have likely seen their final positive thermometer readings of 2017.
As temperatures dipped below zero during the overnight hours Friday, they were expected to remain in the negative until Tuesday.
The result will be a brutally frigid New Year's weekend in Siouxland, with temperatures dropping dangerously low and wind chills bottoming out even lower -- to 30 to 40 below in some areas of the region.
The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls on Friday issued a Wind Chill Advisory extending through noon Saturday for the majority of Siouxland and a Wind Chill Warning for those farthest to the northeast: Osceola, Dickinson, Clay and Buena Vista.
Overnight wind chills will range from 15 below zero to 30 below zero for the advisory area and slightly colder temperatures ranging from 20 below zero to 35 below zero in the warning area.
NWS meteorologist Jim Murray said temperatures are expected to warm up just enough Saturday afternoon to escape an advisory, but as overnight temperatures continue to decrease throughout the weekend, more advisories and warnings will almost certainly be on the way.
The coldest night, he said, will be overnight Sunday.
"We're looking at a low of negative 23 on Sunday night in Sioux City," he said. "Wind chills are going to be down around 40 below. It's going to be really, really dangerous."
The weather service placed the Saturday morning overnight low at 6 degrees below zero, and the Saturday high is forecast for 4 degrees below zero. After that, the temperature is forecast to drop to 14 degrees below zero on Sunday morning, rise to only 7 degrees below zero in the daytime Sunday, and drop steeply to 24 degrees below zero by Monday morning.
The daytime Monday high is forecast for 3 degrees below zero. Then another big drop will occur overnight to 17 degrees below zero Tuesday morning, before warming follows, with the Sioux City high temperature to finally move above zero, at 17 degrees.
As Siouxlanders ring in 2018 on midnight New Year's Eve, the wind chill could be as low as 40 below zero in Sioux City and 42 below zero in Sheldon and Storm Lake, as well as in Beresford, South Dakota.
"We're not going to have a lot of wind through that period," Murray said. "It's just that the temperatures are so cold that even with a little bit of wind, it just drops it lower."
The coldest wind chills this weekend will be capable of causing frostbite in as little as 10 minutes to exposed skin, according to the NWS.
"Just protect yourself," Murray said. "Stay inside if you can. If you can't, dress warmly."
Siouxland saw a fresh blanket of snow Friday, and Murray said Sioux City could see an additional inch or so on Saturday evening.
The Woodbury County Sheriff's Office on Friday afternoon issued a news release encouraging caution for those traveling over the weekend, especially those driving in rural areas. The release recommended drivers allow plenty of time to reach their destinations, let someone else know where they are headed, keep their cellphones charged and have a winter weather emergency kit in their vehicles in case they become stranded.
The oncoming cold temperatures led the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Friday to cancel its annual First Day Hike Monday at state parks around the region, including Stone State Park. As of Friday afternoon, representatives at Ponca State Park in Nebraska said their 2 p.m. walk was still on.
The Journal's Bret Hayworth contributed to this report.