In the recent City Council election forums there has routinely been a question focused on the Iowa West Foundation. The implication of the question is that some City Council members have voted for projects because they are controlled by the Iowa West Foundation. The tone and the accusation in this question is offensive and difficult for me to understand.
What exactly is it that Iowa West Foundation is doing in partnership with the City that is so bad for the community and would require coercion on the Foundation’s part?
Is it the millions of dollars we have invested in revitalizing our beautiful historic downtown and the 100 block? Or the several million dollars we granted to the city to clean up and acquire properties on West Broadway that pave the way for additional economic development and increase tax revenue? Are these individuals opposed to the work IWF is doing to revitalize the Mid-America Center- an area that has been sitting fallow for 20 years? The placement of the Field House and the new soccer complex in the area? Or is it our efforts to create a new tax base for the city by working to revitalize the riverfront?
Why wouldn’t a council member vote to support these efforts?
The fact is that most of the projects where we have partnered with the City or have benefited the city have had unanimous support from the Council. In our twenty plus years of operation, more than $237 million dollars has been given in a way that directly benefits the City of Council Bluffs. That is significantly more than any other grantee.
In the list of grants you will find the $9 million commitment the Foundation made to West Broadway. That huge commitment was because we believe that West Broadway is a critical entryway into the City. We felt it was important to make it as attractive as possible. We partnered with the City because we thought the City funds should be used for the street itself and that tax payer dollars should not be used for the beautification. The facts are:
- The original master plan was developed by City staff and approved by the council. We agreed to fund the amenities portion of the plan that included the medians.
- The Council voted to remove the medians. We had nothing to do with that vote. While we questioned the fact that the grant agreement was modified without conversation with us, we removed the funds designated for the medians from our grant and kept the remainder of the grant intact.
- The Council voted to reinstate the medians. We agreed to put the funds back in the grant to fund the medians. We had nothing to do with the vote.
The second topic bantered about during elections is the Foundation’s investment in public art, particularly the 24th St. bridge art that was installed in 2010. Many people do not like that art. Many people find it interesting. Whatever your thoughts are about it or any of the public art in our community, the facts support that the Iowa West Public Art collection is a tourist attraction producing revenue for the city. The other critical fact is that only 2.7% of the total funding we have given has been to the public art collection.
In the next few months we will be celebrating a significant milestone at the IWF. Recently, we past the $500 million marker for our grantmaking. More than $500 million dollars has been invested in our communities primarily in Council Bluffs and Pottawattamie County. Most of those funds have been matched at least one-to-one by our partners. That means that more than $1 billion dollars has been invested in the community. In recent years we have enhanced that effort by IWF staff engaging in fundraising to help to make significant initiatives possible. More than $50 million has been raised by IWF staff on projects like the new Wickersham Athletic Complex for the CB School District, PACE, the Iowa West Sports Plex and many other smaller projects. These projects would not have happened in our community without that effort.
There appears to be a vocal minority including some community leaders who want to characterize Iowa West Foundation as trying to run the City. I assure you, we are only trying to partner with the City. Despite that effort, as the CEO of the foundation, the primary feedback I have received from the broader community has been a heartfelt thank you. People recognize and appreciate the transformation that is happening in our communities. Most people recognize that this transformation is significantly due to the vision and investment of the Iowa West Foundation.
Our partnerships with our community partners, including the City of Council Bluffs, are the linchpin of that transformation.