Des Moines Register, Nov. 15, 2002
By LYNN OKAMOTO
The state’s Vision Iowa board this week rejected plans for a motor speedway in Newton and magical theme park in Vedic City, and said it may pull the plug on money for Urbandale’s new soccer stadium if plans remain unclear.
However, organizers for all three projects said Thursday they were undeterred by the board’s action and would proceed with their plans.
“It is by no means a dead deal,” said Urbandale Mayor Brad Zaun when asked about the soccer project.
The board’s action comes as Vision Iowa is running low on what started as a $215 million pool of money to distribute. Other cities also have emerged with new proposals. The Vision Iowa program was established two years ago to help Iowa communities build attractions, improving the quality of life in Iowa.
Vision Iowa board members decided against giving state grants to the Iowa Motor Speedway and Maharishi Veda Land because they said neither project had made progress for months.
“The private financing as part of the match just never came up to the level that the Vision Iowa board felt comfortable with,” board member Gregg Connell of Shenandoah said of the Newton speedway. “I don’t blame the project. These are difficult times financially. I think private financing is harder to come by.”
The proposed $40 million, 30,000-seat Newton racetrack has been controversial and is blamed for last week’s defeat of incumbent Jasper County Supervisors Pat Milligan and Leo Van Elswyk, who supported the project.
“Both incumbents lost, mostly because of this racetrack issue,” Van Elswyk said. “Some think it’s an excellent idea, some are opposed to it. In my opinion, this is a tremendous opportunity for economic development.”
Marvin Woods, a Newton resident who lives next to the proposed speedway and opposes it, was pleased by Vision Iowa’s rejection of the project.
“I’m tickled pink,” he said. “The people who live in the county did not want to give 420 acres of county property away to the speedway for free.”
Speedway supporters are still trying to push the project. They have hired a financial adviser from Des Moines and are now talking about selling revenue bonds to pay for the racetrack.
Meanwhile, plans for the $27 million Maharishi Veda Land in southeast Iowa – featuring an indoor theme park with illusions and special effects, an observatory, a knowledge center, village, golf course and water park – have been scaled back, following rejection by Vision Iowa.
“We’re still going to do it,” said Vedic City Councilman Tim Fitz-Randolph. “It’s just going to take a little longer.”
For now, Vedic City will plan for a smaller, $5 million project with natural herb health and wholeness gardens, golf course and conservatory. It will ask the state for just $1 million through the smaller Community Attraction and Tourism program.
A project that had already received a $2.5 million grant from Vision Iowa could see its money taken away.
Urbandale received the grant for the new Des Moines Menace soccer stadium. Since then, team majority owner Kyle Krause said increased land development costs have caused team officials to consider other locations, including Drake University.
Vision Iowa board members said they will consider rejecting Urbandale’s award if the city’s intent is not made clear by the next Vision Iowa board meeting on Dec. 11.
“We hear street talk that the deal in Urbandale has not materialized, but we don’t know,” said Vision Iowa board Chairman Michael Gartner. “I know he’s talked to Drake. Urbandale is the applicant. We need to know what the status is.”
Krause is out of the country on a honeymoon this week. Des Moines Menace president and general manager John Brandt said team officials continue to talk with the city of Urbandale. It has set no deadline for a decision, although the team hopes to move into its new stadium by spring 2004.
Mayor Zaun said the Menace is looking at an alternative site in Urbandale and is negotiating with the landowner. He would not identify the site, but said a decision could come in the next two to three weeks.
The team also is still talking about the possibility of combining the Menace project with renovations at Drake Stadium, home of the annual Drake Relays track meet. Zaun said he’s asked Vision Iowa for more time to work things out.
“What I would ask from you is a little bit of patience,” Zaun said.