Gatehouse hotel developer answers questions during public meeting

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MASON CITY — About 75 people attended a public information meeting Tuesday night at Music Man Square to hear about the proposal from Gatehouse Capital to construct a 100-room hotel in the eastern part of the main parking lot of Southbridge Mall. The hotel would connect with Music Man Square, which would be converted into a conference and convention center with a 65-hundred square foot ballroom, a 15-hundred square foot banquet and catering kitchen, as well as classrooms and breakout rooms, with the streetscape remaining in place. David Rachie with Gatehouse Capital says this is a good proposal for Mason City, whether or not it’s connected with the River City Renaissance project that includes a new ice arena as part of a renovated Southbridge Mall because of the need for convention space in the community. He says as someone who has done a lot of these types of projects, he guarantees it’s a city that people will want to come back again for a weekend. “With 650 people, being able to do a thousand, I think we’ll pull a lot of groups in from Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Kansas City, and St. Louis. And those are people you want to come back and enjoy the community.” Rachie says he believes the Gatehouse proposal is the best fit for the downtown area. He says with the last standing Frank Lloyd Wright hotel and being Meredith Willson’s hometown are unique for a Midwestern community. “The big thing is we wanted to put Central Park, the Park Inn, the mall, the statues and art, the museums, and Music Man Square and really tie all that together, and that’s what happens with this project, and that’s what we’re excited about.” Rachie says they would do an eco-metrics study which he says should show that the hotel would result in a $40-to-60 million economic boost to the city in a ten-year period after it opens. He says when a thousand people come in for an event, they eat at restaurants, they don’t always stay at the hotel across the street, and they are spending money throughout the community. One of the biggest questions after last week’s council meeting on the hotel issue was about the city-owned parking lot at Southbridge Mall. City leaders have said it would be an issue since the city has an agreement with mall management about the number of spaces that must be provided. Rachie says he’s spoken to the mall’s owner and that won’t be an issue. He says the owner is okay with it. “We’ll drive about 75-thousand people from outside the community into the community with this kind of convention center a year. We know the mall before didn’t fail because of lack of parking…it was lack of traffic. He’s willing if the city picks this as the plan that they want to go with, he’s willing to waive whatever parking rights he has to the city-owned lot. But there’s plenty of parking space over there, and there will be the skyway.” City Administrator Brent Trout says there’s the possibility that two more questions could be added to a reverse referendum special election on August 1st that’s already taking place regarding the proposed lease between the mall and the city for the ice arena. He says the city-approved funding for various parts of this project, the specific list, that was done with the G8 Project in mind. “Some of the items listed here are not in that funding, so therefore, we have to go back and get authorization for those items should the City Council decide to go for this project. That’s how it would work if those decisions were made, then we’d have to go back and add that to the ballot. Not my choice, but by law.” Rachie says he’d like to break ground on the project this fall. The City Council is scheduled to decide at their meeting next Tuesday whether they like the Gatehouse proposal or the proposal from G8 Development to place a hotel on the parking lot next to City Hall.

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