Tourism boost

Riverfront redevelopment, nature center receive $4M grant

Submitted photo
This rendering shows what the nature center and surrounding waterfront recreational area could look like when completed.

The planned redevelopment around the Des Moines River off of the west end of Central Avenue in Fort Dodge just received a boost in funding.

On Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the fifth round of the Destination Iowa quality of life and tourism grants. The program is a $100 million investment the state is making to bolster the quality of life in Iowa’s communities and attract visitors and new residents to the state.

Out of the $14.1 million granted in this round, the Central River District Park and River’s Edge Discovery Center project will receive $4 million.

The project is a joint venture of the Fort Dodge and Webster County governments. It all started a few years ago when the city of Fort Dodge was working on its Central River District plan around the same time the Webster County Conservation Board began working on its parks, facilities and recreation plan, said Webster County Conservation Director Matt Cosgrove.

“We wanted to bring the community back to the river and connect to the river,” said Chad Schaeffer, chief development officer for the city of Fort Dodge.

-Submitted image
This image offers an overhead view of the amenities planned for the riverfront park at the west end of Central Avenue.

The goal of the riverfront and nature center project is to create a regional hub for land and water recreation and revitalize the district, Cosgrove said.

“The redevelopment of that riverfront will attract people here to work and give them a fun place to work, play and raise a family,” he said. “This is a reinvestment to make more livable communities.”

According to the city and county’s application for the grant, the central theme of the park and Discovery Center is “Immerse yourself in the living story of Iowa’s water — the lifeblood that shapes our communities and our landscapes — while discovering our responsibility to protect it for the future.”

The city transferred about five acres of land to the county for the Discovery Center, Cosgrove said. The 13,000-square-foot building — which will house county conservation offices, exhibit spaces and classrooms — will be surrounded by water wetlands that will filter the stormwater that runs off of Central Avenue and the parking lots in the area, before the water runs into the Des Moines River.

The Discovery Center will also include a natural play area and accessible trails and sidewalks. Also planned are in-stream recreational features, river access sites, playscapes, scenic overlook with a fishing plaza, and fishing jetties.

The riverfront project is part of the county’s $19 million quality-of-life package, which includes the regional trail connections for the recreational trail from Fort Dodge to Badger, a trail loop in Badger and a trail loop in Dayton.

The Central River District and River’s Edge Discovery Center will draw people to Fort Dodge, Cosgrove said.

“The city and county view this project as an investment in workforce attraction and improved quality of life, with a service area extending beyond Fort Dodge and Webster County, providing exceptional recreation opportunities to residents in neighboring rural cities, counties and states as well,” he wrote in the Destination Iowa grant application.

The city is already working on the First Street reconstruction and the land for the nature center has been graded and is ready for construction, Schaeffer said.

The Destination Iowa grant provides about 17 percent of the funding needed for the entire riverfront project and trail connectors. The grant also required the applicants to do some private fundraising for the project, Cosgrove said. He said the county will be rolling out a fundraising campaign for the project soon.

Tax increment financing money received from the ag industrial park called Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation and wind turbines in the southern half of the county will also be used to pay for Webster County’s projects. Tax increment financing occurs when increased property tax revenue from a given area is set aside to be reinvested.

Part of the city’s funding will come from general obligation bonds.

On Tuesday, the Webster County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the contract with Jensen Builders Ltd. of Fort Dodge. Jensen was awarded the bid for the River’s Edge Discovery Center last month with a $6,700,000 bid. Construction on the nature center is expected to begin this fall and finish by July 2024.


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