Projects pave the way
It's impossible to wrap up the events of the last decade without a look into what's ahead in the Iowa Great Lakes.
Dickinson County was one of 30 counties in Iowa to show growth over the past decade and residents saw changes along the area's roads and highways.
One of the key access points to the Iowa Great Lakes saw some of the first improvements of the decade: News came May 11, 2010, that the Iowa Department of Transportation would fund upgrades to Highway 86, a heavily-traveled corridor in the Iowa Great Lakes.
The Highway 86 Project was broken into two main priorities.
Construction crews closed down Highway 86 between Highway 9 and the Minnesota state line in early April 2013. They needed the majority of the 2013 construction season to compete the $7.4 million project. The improved roadway includes wider lanes, plus 4-foot-wide paved shoulders and 4-foot-wide granular shoulders.
As part of the project, the extreme "S" curve along the Minnesota-Iowa state line was improved.
INDIAN MOTORCYCLE COMES TO SPIRIT LAKE
Some businesses and industries showed signs of an economic turnaround by adding products and maintaining workforces. Polaris officials on April 19, 2011, announced the acquisition of the Indian motorcycle line, which was 110 years old at the time. The Spirit Lake workforce of about 700 employees was expected to handle much of the production. Local Polaris employees also produced Victory motorcycles. The company acquired a Fargo, N.D.-based line of electric-powered vehicles as well.
A year after adding the Indian Motorcycle line, Polaris officials confirmed plans to invest $22.5 million in an expansion at the 565,000-square-foot Polaris manufacturing facility in Spirit Lake. The construction helped accommodate a newly-opened Indian Motorcycle Experience Center on the eastern side of the Spirit Lake Polaris plant.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority on Sept. 21, 2012, awarded tax benefits and $395,000 in direct financial assistance to Polaris. The company planned to add 79 jobs as part of the expansion.
Five years later, Polaris shuffled production lines, discontinued a major brand and closed its Milford location as part of an eventful 2017. Polaris began the year with plans to "immediately begin winding down" its 18-year-old Victory motorcycle brand and the brand's production operations in Spirit Lake.
The Indian motorcycle line's presence in Spirit Lake helped offset some of the workforce losses associated with the Victory decision. Polaris hoped to maintain a workforce of 650 once operations at the Milford site came to an end.
The prominent factory on the south end of Milford didn't stay empty for long.
Members of the Iowa Economic Development Authority board in December announced the state portion of a financial package to help Liberty Diversified International locate its Safco Products plant in Milford at the end of 2017.
The Newhope, Minnesota company still operates Safco Products in the location that formerly housed Polaris, Klaussner Home Furnishings and Stylecraft production lines.
NEW CITY HALL
Spirit Lake voters on March 5, 2013, gave city leaders the funding authority they needed to begin construction on a new city hall. The $1.355 million bond issue received 270 "yes" votes for 61.5 percent support. There were 169 "no" votes for 38.5 percent opposition. The public measure needed 60 percent support to pass.
Spirit Lake Council members also agreed to use $500,000 in cash reserves for the $1,795,000 project.
LRH JOINS AVERA HEALTH SYSTEM
Officials at Lakes Regional Healthcare, the hospital serving Dickinson County, spent much of the fall of 2013 working out the logistics of an extensive collaboration with Avera Health System of Sioux FallS, including an integrated electronic health record system as part of the agreement.
The hospital continues to be county-owned. Lakes Regional Healthcare CEO Jason Harrington said hospital trustees worked for 18 months to find an agreement that offers regional benefits while maintaining local control.
"In Iowa, 85 percent of hospitals in the state have some sort of system affiliation – some sort of relationship with a larger system," he said in 2013. "In Iowa, 65 percent of doctors in the state are employed by hospitals or health systems. That seems to be the trend."
FREEDOM ROCK COMES TO LAKE PARK
Lake Park's James Kessler wants to make sure the heroes who served our country are remembered – and he was instrumental in bringing Dickinson County's Freedom Rock to Lake Park in 2013. The large, painted tribute to veterans was unveiled as part of a Veterans Memorial dedication ceremony in November. Artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen painted the centerpiece stone along with smaller rocks to honor the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. About 300 people were on hand for the unveiling. The Freedom Rock is part of a larger Veterans Memorial complex in Lake Park. The entire project cost roughly $75,000. Kessler said a word of mouth campaign helped offset most of the costs.
RAGBRAI MAKES ITS LAKES DEBUT
If first impressions count, then RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz said the Iowa Great Lakes made a good one Sunday, July 20, 2014, when the area hosted an overnight stop on the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
Riders slept in area communities and left the following morning for the next overnight stop in Emmetsburg.
Okoboji RAGBRAI committee members counted 20,840 riders for the cross-state bike ride's overnight stop in the Lakes Area.
Only a few left with alcohol-related citations. Others sustained some road rash.
"People had a great time at the Lakes," Juskiewicz said. "Obviously it's one of the top tourist destinations in our state. To not go there for 42 years – there was a lot of anticipation about going to the Lakes for RAGBRAI. It just turned out to be a fantastic day there. People enjoyed coming into restaurants, the concert that night and going to the amusement park – you name it."
Riders told him they look forward to going back there – with their families or for a weekend.
Joe Conover, President of Northwest Bank and Okoboji RAGBRAI finance chair said the committee donated nearly $24,000 back to community nonprofit organizations, including $16,000 to the Dickinson County Trails Board.
PARK REACHES A MILESTONE
2015 marked summer of celebration at Arnolds Park Amusement Park – but much of the planning took place at the start of the year. Uncle Kracker performed on July 5, 2015, for the Live At The Lake Concert series on Preservation Plaza. A time capsule dedication took place Sept. 5 at the State Pier in Arnolds Park Amusement Park was a chance to preserve memorabilia from the last 125 years of Arnolds Park Amusement Park and area communities.
OKOBOJI DISTRICT APPROVES A NEW MIDDLE SCHOOL
Okoboji administrators went back to the drawing board after voters twice turned away a tax levy to construct a new middle school in 2015.
Ballot measures on April 7 and Sept. 8, 2015, both would have established a $1.34 physical plant and equipment levy (PPEL) to generate $14.7 million for construction of a new middle school.
The Okoboji School Board could begin working with architects and general contractors after district voters signed off on a $25 million plan to construct a middle school near Okoboji High School in Milford.
The April 3, 2018, referendum received 1,443 "yes" votes and 639 "no" votes for 69 percent support in the April special election. The bond required 60 percent approval to pass.
The new building will replace the district's aging multi-storied middle school in Arnolds Park. Plans call for a new 65,000 square-foot middle school for grades 5-8 on 11 acres. The funds will also help renovate the district's athletic facilities, repair portions of the roofs at the elementary and high school buildings and repair aged playground equipment on the elementary campus.
On Nov. 5, 2019, voters approved a petitioned ballot measure, which requires the school district to sell its Arnolds Park property to the highest bidder. The measure passed with 59.63% approval — 802 "yes" votes and 543 "no" votes.
GRAPETREE PROJECT BEARS FRUIT
New plans, a new partnership and a new CEO added up to a headline-making year at GrapeTree Medical Staffing. Many of the changes in north Milford unfolded in the second half of 2017.
In August, GrapeTree CEO Tim Kinnetz updated Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds about plans to stay in Iowa and grow his Milford business.
At the time, the business owner planned to break ground on an eight-acre expansion at his Milford headquarters, with completion by the summer of 2019. Construction was expected to cost between $15 and $20 million.
Kinnetz’s plans called for an additional 200 to 300 jobs.
Within a couple of months, Kinnetz's plans for the expansion shifted direction — the CEO decided to purchase the nearby Boji Bay Funhouse and Event Center instead.
Kinnetz said the property was offered to him, after the Wells and Penne families — who own Boji Bay — heard about GrapeTree's plans to expand. The two businesses neighbored each other in northern Milford.
The Boji Bay property acquisition wasn't the only major announcement in October 2017. At the end of the month, Kinnetz announced he was no longer the sole owner of his growing medial staffing company. New MainStream Capital of New York signed on for an ownership stake.
"They provide the funds that I wanted to help grow the company," Kinnetz said as part of the announcement. "It gives us the ability to hire more people and put up a corporate office. 'Putting up the corporate office' has shifted now to buying Boji Bay and remodeling that building into our corporate office. They’re kind of the backers on the funding."
GrapeTree rounded out 2017 with another major announcement: The company on Nov. 13 named Steve Heeg to succeed Kinnetz as the new GrapeTree Medical Staffing CEO.
IMAGINE IOWA GREAT LAKES FUELS BEAUTIFICATION EFFORTS
From better foot traffic to refurbished buildings, the Iowa Great Lakes is undergoing a steady transformation.
The "Green Space" near Arnolds Park Amusement Park has become a multi-million dollar "Arnolds Park Promenade at Preservation Plaza" with nine arches, 10 benches and thousands of new trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.
But that's just the beginning, according to representatives with Imagine Iowa Great Lakes. Senior Advisor Bethany Wilcoxon and CEO Terry Lutz of McClure Engineering Company updated an audience of stakeholders and supporters Aug. 29, 2019, as the Imagine project neared a second phase.
The donor group behind Imagine wants to bring nature and art back to the Highway 71 corridor using wildflowers and native grasses. The Promenade has been a primary focus. Phase I plans include a spine trail connector tunnel near Arnolds Park Public Beach and upgrades to Clare Wilson Park at the north end of Arnolds Park.
"We've completed or are in the process of completing about $10 million worth of landscaping and beautification," Lutz said as the 2019 Labor Day weekend approached. "The Promenade is the first project, but there are four or five other projects coming out of the ground this fall and next spring — which include redevelopment of the entire lakefront and the intersection where the (Dickinson County) Nature Center is on Highway 71."
Sections of Lake Street near the Roof Garden, Majestic Pavilion and Legend roller coaster are part of the "boardwalk" effort in the next portion of plans.
"Lake Street is designed to be a pedestrian-focused area," Wilcoxon said. "We will be removing the curbs to eliminate some of those tripping hazards. We'll open it up — we've seen what has been happening on Saturday mornings with the farmer's market. The vision is to continue to expand that and make it super-inviting for friends and families."
Lutz expects Phase II of the Imagine initiative to begin at the end of the summer season in 2020.