Give Buoy’s a break

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Storm Lake’s west side marina has had a long and sorry history that was beginning to turn around into a brighter chapter of prosperity and maybe even a little fun. But then the city council failed to keep the party going with a tie vote Monday that couldn’t help but take the wind out of the sails of the marina operator, Buoy’s Bar and Grill, which sought a five-year lease extension after making some $9,000 of capital improvements in the state-owned, city-administered facility.

Almost everybody who has tried to make a go of it at the marina left wet, cold, tired and broke. A new marina was built in hopes of finally founding a business that could float. After fits and starts, the city landed on Nate Jensen and company — a mortician who started a barbecue restaurant and agreed to launch Buoy’s. He was having bands on the weekends and the business was actually picking up. Buoy’s installed a new fuel port without recompense from the owners. Tom Fitzpatrick convinced Butch Parks to bring some boats in to show. This thing is starting to pick up some steam. Maybe this place can work after all.

Whoa.

At first the city was going to pay back the $9,000 to Buoy’s and extend the lease. The money got knocked out of the agreement, and that could be understandable since the marina is not supposed to cost the city actual cash. The improvement benefits the state, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, where the capital budget has been frozen for years thanks to the expert management of Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds. Jensen was willing to eat the $9,000 if he could get another five years on the lease. (Please note that the lease is with the city, not the state, because the state cannot be seen leasing a property where beer is sold. This despite the fact that the state has a liquor monopoly and takes all that tax revenue on demon rum. Such are the convolutions of Iowa hypocrisy on money and morals.)

Councilmen Bruce Engelmann and Tyson Rice hesitated because a total of eight years on a lease is too long and the rent is cheap enough at $1,250 per month.

The rent in February does not buoy one’s spirits. Given the commercial success over the years, we would argue that there is no market for rent at the marina. Jensen and Fitzpatrick are attempting to make a market. It takes about three years for a business to find its footing. Then the lease is up. The business is finally at the point of breaking even and somebody else comes in to reap what is sowed. That’s hardly fair. It is reasonable to extend the lease for five years at the current rent. Without Jensen, the city and state are back to begging someone from Lake View to come in and run the place for a couple years.

Jensen points out that he can’t make cash-flow plans on financing without the security of a longer-term lease. This isn’t a farm with a proven crop history we are leasing. It is a marina that is off the beaten track, that is an afterthought of the state for most of 50 years, and which has been a yoke for the city. The whole idea of building anew was to get the party started. But the party is mired in a tie vote.

Our understanding is that a tie leaves the issue on the table. Councilmen Dan Smith and Jose Ibarra voted to extend the lease. We believe that either one of them can call for a vote at any time. One of them should. Smith appreciates what the marina is trying to do. He ran to get Storm Lake livened up a bit. He would be the natural to bring people together to get Buoy’s the support it deserves from the city. Storm Lake needs that marina. It needs the Lakeside Marina, which the Davis family owns on a long-term lease with the City of Lakeside. The two businesses complement each other well. Lakeside offers the Davises the stability they need to maintain a seasonal enterprise. Storm Lake must do the same for Jensen, who is proving in the early going that this thing might finally work. If it doesn’t, the lease is up and the city can find someone who can cut that $1,250 rent.

That’s business. Let’s get to it.

Hubbell’s point of rural entry

If we were Fred Hubbell trying to score points in rural Iowa, we would talk about a state program to seed new single-family dwellings. The one we had, which gave a $30,000 buydown on qualified new homes, was just cancelled and along with it a lot of ambition to build in blue-collar Storm Lake. And, the Iowa Finance Authority has virtually eliminated cash-poor communities from getting low-income housing tax credits without a significant capital investment from local sources. Storm Lake simply doesn’t have that sort of cash lying around, so the projects go to Ankeny. The rules are written for urban developers and leave us in the lurch.

New housing will crop up here with higher wages. Absent that, if the state is interested in supporting the pork and poultry industries it might want to see how new houses can be built in Storm Lake, Alta or Early. Hubbell needs to be heard in rural Iowa. Talking about real plans to help Storm Lake’s working poor get roofs over their head — preferably in single residences and not apartment complexes — is one way to get our attention. It is a problem common to every rural community, not just Storm Lake. We all feel left out of state finance programs. That is something Hubbell should be talking about as a central point in his campaign.