Storm Lake Marina will serve as the natural center of BV County

The Buena Vista County Conservation Council chose to run the Storm Lake Marina as a county-run nature center, not a bar and restaurant.

The board of directors asked Conservation Director Greg Johnson last Tuesday to negotiate a long-term marina management agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Buena Vista County will manage the facility; no third-party operator will be taken into account during negotiations with the DNR.

“It is possible that this will happen. Remember we are still in negotiations, ”Johnson said last Wednesday. “We’ve just decided to go in a certain direction for now.”

Johnson envisions the marina to be very different from what it was under the town of Storm Lake.

The city operated the facility for seven years with a third-party vendor who leased 84 loading docks, operated a bar, and sold boats.

Johnson intends to run it as a conservation “shop south” with a nature center, similar to Woodbury County Conservation, which maintains offices to the north and south.

The conservation council requested an expansion of the store to the tune of $ 600,000 during a recent budget negotiation with the supervisory board. The guards refused.

Johnson believes the marina can replace the new store. It has sufficient equipment bays to compensate for the needs of the conservation department.

Johnson believes that assuming the marina would represent a tax savings of up to $ 600,000.

“It would eliminate our demand for a store here,” Johnson said. “I think if we divide our people that we have here, that would be enough for a long time… This is a big problem for the county.”

Johnson persuaded the board of directors.

They ruled that operating the marina amounted to a tax break estimated by Johnson. Board member Mark Kirkholm described the move as a “compromise” as it will keep the facility open. It contrasted the appearance of a nature center open to the public to its current operations under the DNR.

“At least the paint on the sign would be better,” Kirkholm said of the sign bearing “Storm Lake Marina” superimposed on the “Iowa Department of Natural Resources.”

The board’s decision was based on a lack of interest among commercial sellers, namely Tom Fitzpatrick.

Kirkholm and board members Jim Wischmeyer and Rick Meyer have all said they prefer to contract with a “third party supplier” instead of running the facility as a county operation.

Meyer felt that Fitzpatrick’s interest had ‘cooled’ since Fitzpatrick and his partner, Andy Goettsch, began negotiating with the town of Storm Lake in October 2020 when the town managed the property. The couple have offered to invest $ 2.6 million in the marina on a seven-year contract. Talks between the city and the group failed because the city could not maintain its obligations under its 25-year management agreement with the MNR.

Fitzpatrick confirmed he was interested in the property, but declined to comment further on the reasons for the breakdown in talks with the conservation board.

Meyer and Fitzpatrick met at Fitzpatrick’s residence in Arizona.

Meyer said Fitzpatrick was optimistic he could work with the conservation council despite unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with the city and the DNR, which earlier this year considered leasing the facility to him.

Meyer and other board members were also optimistic until the state intervened.

First, the DNR would not allow negotiations with Fitzpatrick to continue unless the county agrees to manage them with a third-party operator.

“It was a short conversation,” Johnson said of the DNR allowing the county to negotiate with Fitzpatrick before entering into long-term management negotiations.

For the bar, the state fire marshal needed a fire extinguisher system that would cost tens of thousands of dollars. The DNR refused to pay. Fitzpatrick would not engage in it.

For the restaurant, further improvements were needed. The DNR also rejected this request.

These required upgrades faced any commercial operator who would have assumed the bar, not to mention the 84 loading docks that fell into disuse more than five years ago.

“The problem with the third-party vendor is that you have to invest a lot of money to set up a (bar and restaurant) there,” Meyer said. “It just won’t work… I thought a third-party vendor was the solution, but now I think the naturalist, moving some of our facilities there, makes a lot of sense. “

Sarah Vanderhoff, a board member, said the area would welcome a nature center with more enthusiasm than what residents did under the Town of Storm Lake tenure.

“I think the naturalistic area would be used a lot more,” she said. “And I think people who don’t like him will come.” I really think the nature center is the way to go.

The safety and condition of the slip docks at Storm Lake Marina has been a source of contention in recent years.

The town of Storm Lake managed the marina on its own in 2021.

He earned $ 55,500 in income from the slips and spent $ 62,000 to maintain them and the rest of the property, posting a loss of $ 6,500, according to city manager Keri Navratil.

The city has lost money every year it has managed the marina, regardless of whether it is run by a third-party operator. CFO Brian Oakleaf estimated the city’s unpaid debts at $ 1.82 million over the remaining 18 years of the marina operating agreement, hence the city’s withdrawal.

Navratil noted that the city needs to dedicate storage facilities to slip tenants in order to bolster its revenue prospects. She said the city could not have used the facility as the county sees fit.

“The city could never use the property as an additional storage / equipment store,” Navratil told The Times on Monday. “During the low season, the buildings were used by slide rental companies to store their boats and jet skis, which was another source of income. It was important for those who rented the holds to have a place to winter and store their boats for the next season.

It’s unclear whether the loss reflects the city’s legal costs it incurred to exit the deal and an ongoing lawsuit involving its former operator, Buoy’s Bar & Grill. The city hired Ahlers & Cooney of West Des Moines to negotiate the exit from the management agreement; he also hired Mayne, Hindman, Frey, Parry & Wingert from Sioux City to defend against a claim by Dale Schumann, who fell into a hold in the spring of 2018.

Navratil declined to say whether the city’s legal tab was reflected in its $ 62,000 maintenance budget.

Slips were the main reason her relationship with Buoy’s deteriorated. Both sides agreed they needed to be replaced, but couldn’t agree on who would pay for them. The DNR refused to replace them because they are not free and are only open to 84 tenants, not to the general public.

Johnson would not commit to executing the slips.

Meyer and other members of the conservation council encouraged him to consider it. They felt that replacing the docks would improve their income prospects.

Meyer estimated that they generate around $ 80,000 per year. The repayment period for the replacement cost is five to seven years, depending on interest rates and markets for dock components, which are said to be on the move due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“If we could get that money back in four to five years just off the docks, that’s more or less the private part… that part would work,” Meyer said. “If you stabilized the docks there, you would have a lot more people there. “

Johnson acknowledged that the Conservation Department had no experience running a dock rental business. He plans to seek advice from marine construction companies on how the county can leverage its existing resources.

“We would be looking for additional expertise, yes,” Johnson said. “Before replacing them, we looked to companies with some experience in repairing and building docks. “

Board of Supervisors Chairman Kelly Snyder believes the dock replacement will end before the supervisors one way or another. Either the replacement will be covered in the marina operating agreement or in a conservation service bond application, both of which require the blessing of supervisors.

He said Monday he had not decided whether the county should run the marina without a third-party operator.

“It will be an important decision that we will have to discuss,” Snyder said.

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