News Column

Rail park gets boost with approval

February 12, 2014

By Brenden West, Clinton Herald, Iowa

Feb. 12--CLINTON -- For every word of support there were equally pointed words of caution. Strong encouragement from the Clinton Regional Development Corporation was met by concerned citizens.

Then there was the Clinton City Council members, who had much to say about the Lincolnway Industrial Rail and Air Park Urban Renewal Plan. Throughout most of their new term, the document labeling a $53.6 million pricetag for costs associated with the park has swirled with controversy.

"Can the city of Clinton, a city of 26,000 people, with the significant amount of debt this city has, and the significant amount of projects this city is trying to fund -- can we really afford to be in the railpark business?" said councilman John Rowland, a "no" voter.

"I think if we have more things like the railpark we will have more jobs," countered councilwoman Lynn McGraw, adding the city has "sat on" too many issues. "I don't think we can sit on something like this."

The council ultimately passed the plan -- 4-3 -- with Rowland, Ed O'Neill and Grant Wilke voting against. Clinton can now authorize tax increment financing agreements placed upon current developments with companies RAIL.ONE and Nevada Railroad Materials on land purchases for the zone west of town. It also allows the city to offer TIF incentives to prospective businesses in the future, which would give Clinton the ability to finance water and road infrastructure upgrades as needed in the park.

Although support wasn't unanimous, projects within the park drew praise from O'Neill less than an hour later. When the CRDC presented a plan for a fully funded $300,000, job-creating upgrade, O'Neill said moves like this are what he was elected to approve.

The Clinton County Biodiesel Fuel facility located east of the park is moving to match a $150,000 state grant, creating five new jobs and allowing rail access to extend onto land currently owned by the CRDC.

"This meets every criteria I've talked about," O'Neill said. "Bring six more of these and I'm loving it."

Before voting, O'Neill said his concern was never with the validity of the park. He said if this came during his previous stint on the council, he would have been "the first man to the podium" endorsing the plan.

But for O'Neill, his "no" vote stemmed from different times and circumstances for Clinton. He said projects of this size were better served through a public referendum.

"In this situation we're at right now... I really find it hard to push it forward when I know that funding can't be there," he said.

Rowland was concerned that Clinton was investing in the wrong industry. He reported that rail manufacturing was a dying enterprise. Wilke added he'd rather see the city invest in its "face" -- pointing to downtown.

Supporters McGraw and Tom Determann said the city should embrace what it's already started.

"I think these next five to 10 years are going to be the most exciting in Clinton's history," Determann said.

"If we don't do this, we're letting down companies we already have agreements with," McGraw said. "I think there's great prospects."

CRDC member Steve Howes and CRDC President and CEO Mike Kirchhoff said after Tuesday's council meeting that approving the plan was a major step toward realizing visions made nearly two decades ago. They hope to encourage more projects that will limit city spending but ensure the park gets the touch ups necessary to continue to drive business.

"As a community, we've got to plan for success," Howes said. "This is just one of those steps. It's a plan we can look at and use.

"We pay taxes too. Everybody's got to be judicious about the way they spend money."

While the CRDC wouldn't comment on possible business negotiations, Kirchhoff said plans for future upgrades at minimal cost to Clinton are in the works.

"I'm thrilled that the council moved ahead with a positive vote this evening," he said. "Admittedly there were some council members not on board. I think as they see more occur, their opinions may change."


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Source: Clinton Herald (IA)

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