Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Didn't get a chance to finish your story? Purchase a day pass digital subscription and you'll receive unlimited online access for one day (24 hours). You will have immediate access upon completion of your purchase.

VINTON — Over three years ago the Iowa Board of Regents presented the City of Vinton with an opportunity that at a first glance looked wonderful.

The Regents offered the all the buildings and the grounds at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School at the sale price of a $1.

While many in the community felt the purchase should occur, a few individuals within the city’s governing body had concerns.

“Remember that the annual cash loss of the campus to the State of Iowa, at the time, approximated $500,000. The AmeriCorps lease was due to expire, and without the AmeriCorps lease payments the annual cash loss would have exceeded $1 million,” members of the Braille School Committee (BSC) shared with Vinton council members last month. The BSC were community members selected by the council to look for options for the City to facilitate a future for the campus within the city.

“The challenge facing a City of 5,200 people was the financial cost of owning a campus consisting of 11 buildings, some of which are over 100 years old, 200,000 square feet of usable space and 48 acres,” Pat Baird, a member of the BSC, pointed out.

Not wanting to see a ‘hole’ in the community, city officials set forth to find ideas and plans of ways that the area could be used.

After several months of searching for proposals and speaking with developers, the City intends to partner with a signed developer’s agreement with Hobart Historic Restoration, Cedar Rapids.

During months of talks a few things became clear.

The city’s expertise lies in the area of public safety, streets, parks and recreation and utilities to serve the residents.

The ownership, developing and operating a large real estate project was not a mission that the City of Vinton wished to undertake.

“But, we had several important factors that were always out there,” BSC members shared with the council.

  • The State definitely wanted to divest of the property. The City had found a developer who wanted to own the property.
  • AmeriCorps wanted to stay in Vinton and Vinton wanted AmeriCorps to say in Vinton.
  • Vinton wanted the campus buildings to be restored first and then preserved and then to ultimately generate property tax revenue. The campus was too important to the City to let it go.
  • The City needed space for a new public safety building, while the Campus has available land in an ideal place for such a facility.
  • The City wanted to take ownership to the Kiwanis’ Park and build a splash pad.

“All of these lined up in the same direction, so we just found our way along to where we are today,” Baird told council members.

While drawing up the development agreement, between Hobarts and the City of Vinton, the BSC engaged assistance from the City’s outside council, Bob Josten, and also discussed in broad terms with counterparts in Cedar Rapids. “Those individuals have been nice enough to provide advice and their thoughts on the terms we have agreed to with the Hobarts,” Baird said.

Some of the major points within the development include:

-The State is unable to transfer ownership to a private organization, but can transfer to the City of Vinton. Vinton is able to transfer ownership to a private developer, such as Hobart, if certain conditions are met.

Chris Ward, Vinton city administrator, has made sure that all of those conditions have been met. Therefore, the State will transfer ownership to the City of Vinton, for one second, and the City in turn will transfer ownership to Hobart. The transfer of ownership will not occur unless Hobart is able to take ownership.

- All of the property will be transferred to Hobart’s except for the Kiwanis’ Park and the land set aside for the Public Safety Building. Those properties will be retained by the City.

- The transfer will occur subject to a novation process from the Federal Government of the AmeriCorps lease, plus the Hobart’s being satisfied with the grants received from the State for renovation and demolition.

- The City of Vinton will provide Tax Increment Financing (TIF) incentives and property tax abatements for the development of the existing buildings and new construction. There will be no loss in property tax revenues as nothing has been received from the property in the past.

-The Hobarts will take ownership to the school’s Rec Center including the pool. The pool will be available to AmeriCorps and local community groups on a basis similar to the past.

To help assist with the work that needs to be done on the buildings, the City has applied for a pair of grants from the State of Iowa to help with renovation and demolition.

“Each of these grants could provide the city with $1 million for three years,” Melissa Schwan, BSC member, explained to the council. “The application process for the monies is quite simple, but we need to be concise when filling it out.”

The application deadline is the end of November and committee members expect to receive word by mid-December if the funds are awarded to this project.

“No one else is really as far along in this process as Vinton is,” Jim Hobart shared with the council.

“We (City of Vinton) are being looked at as poster child for how this should be done,” Dennis Lasaur, BSC member, told the council.

With all the work that has been done and the hours spent planning and in discussion, all parties involved are able to see a finish line.

When everything is laid out, “we found that all parties involved were on the same side of the table,” Baird said.

“When this project first started, we didn’t think it would happen, that we would be able to find anyone to partner with and make it a reality but here we are,” he added.