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.