McGregor Council says no to condos at former Holiday Shores Motel location

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

At a special meeting Jan. 25, the McGregor Council voted unanimously to deny a request by Trilogy Partners, LLC, to re-zone the former Holiday Shores Motel property from W1-waterfront commercial to W2-waterfront mixed use, in order to build condominiums at the location.

The meeting, which also included a public hearing, was the latest step in the process, after McGregor’s planning and zoning commission, in December, recommended the council deny the request and work with Trilogy to develop a mixed use plan for the location, to include condominiums and short-term lodging.

Around 25 people attended Monday night’s meeting, many voicing concerns over the impact of the proposed project on McGregor, as well as Trilogy’s refusal to disclose its third partner. 

Bruce and Lois Buccheit, who are members of Trilogy with Terry Kerns and another un-named partner, were on-hand at the meeting with their engineer Mike Jansen, from IIW in Dubuque, and lawyers Michael Blaser and Karen Karr, from BrownWinick in Des Moines. To-date, said Jansen, he’s worked with Trilogy to obtain a site survey, conducted regulatory coordination with the city and DNR, and looked at the development potential of the site. Development would include a structure housing 18 condo units, as well as 27 parking spaces, some shoreline improvements and boat docks. Trilogy previously stated that they would construct the condo shell only, leaving interior build-out to those who purchase the units.

Blaser said Trilogy already has seven letters of commitment for condos. New construction may also encourage further development in the community, he said.

“Construction begets new construction. Development begets new development. It has the tendency to attract other people,” he added. “I think it’s a good project and construction would be helpful, and the tax money would be helpful.”

However, members of the crowd were unsure if condos would sell well. Craig Watson, who with his wife, splits time between McGregor and Texas, mentioned that people have been slow to construct single-dwelling homes on the city’s available lots, questioning what would make condos any different. He also questioned Trilogy’s reluctance to provide possible square footage and guidelines for the condos.

“I think it’s a lack of commitment if they’re not willing to finish them out,” he said.

Josie Davies, owner of Josie’s River Queen, also noted that condos at Harpers Ferry have been slow to sell.

“What makes you think you’re better than them at selling?” she asked. 

Roland Clinton, who said he was interested in purchasing a condo, felt it was unfair to compare the two locations, as the condos at Harpers Ferry are along the backwaters rather than the main channel, he explained. He didn’t see the need for a new hotel at the location, something for which many community members have advocated.

“You’re not considering the value of the number of people drawn in by condos. If they did build a hotel, how’s it going to pay?” Clinton retorted, adding that people can go to Prairie du Chien if they need a place to stay. “Driving by the Marquette hotels, I saw little or no cars there the last two months. If it was a good hotel site, someone would have already built one.

“We’re missing an opportunity to get new taxes and new people, to let the town progress rather than hold it back. A new building will pass all fire codes; up and down the street, nine out of 10 would not pass any inspections,” he continued.

The statement irked some attendees, with Pocket City Pub owner Bart Knight replying, “I know my building is up to code, and I believe most are.”

In previous meetings, the Buccheits said building a new hotel was not within Trilogy’s budget. 

“The hotel is not there and it’s not coming back,” Blaser said.

That hasn’t stopped others from building hotels or motels in the area, though, said resident Larry Brummel.

“Motels are new construction too,” he said. “If motels were such a bad deal, why would people keep building and filling them?”

Resident Bob Clark said a lot of people are looking to stay in a hotel on the river. Although the Holiday Shores wasn’t always the best, people liked it because of its location, he quipped.

“It’s the only spot on the river that can handle a hotel,” he said.

Many in attendance cited the need for a hotel to provide tourist foot traffic to local businesses and contribute hotel/motel tax, which helps fund the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce. If condos were constructed, McGregor would only receive a portion of the property tax, they noted.

Without a place to stay, people will go elsewhere, said resident Lyle Troester, in a letter to the council. With a career in sales management, he said he often brought people to town for meetings, who also patronized local businesses. Now, without adequate lodging and meeting space, he’s forced to hold meetings elsewhere.

“What a shame for our area,” Troester said. “I wish the current owners of the former motel spot would have more love and consideration for this area and the local business people. It is very obvious that this is not in any way a part of Trilogy Partners, LLC’s vision.”

McGregor Historic Preservation Commission Chair Dave Kneer also spoke at the meeting, noting that the closure of the Holiday Shores has a ripple effect in McGregor. By lessening foot traffic and tourism to businesses, it hurts business owners’ ability to maintain their historic buildings.

“Although not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Holiday Shores was a part of McGregor’s history—and by its age alone was historic,” Kneer said of the motel, which was a mainstay on the McGregor riverfront since the 1960s, until Trilogy tore it down in late August. “Over the years since the motel was built, thousands of people have spent a night or weekend, enjoyed the riverfront and being able to walk to shops, restaurants and bars. It’s loss, without another hotel in its place, will be far reaching and a threat to future preservation efforts.”

One of Trilogy’s lawyers, Karen Karr, said, with condos, there may still be a chance for the city to gain hotel/motel tax, as condo owners would have the option to rent out their condos. That did not seem like a viable option, however, said resident Sallee Scarff-Muehlbauer, explaining that it would be difficult for the city to regulate.

Others felt it was unfair to give use of the riverfront to a few rather than many people.

“You’re going to let a few people enjoy prime real estate rather than thousands of people over the years,” stated resident Maureen Wild.

“The Mississippi is the difference between us and other communities. Our economy is based on visitors coming to town. A motel is something a lot of people can enjoy,” added resident and business owner Dan Bickel, who said he “vehemently opposes condos that would allow a few well-to-do people to use [the riverfront] as their personal recreation area.”

Troester and Wild questioned why, when the city has other properties available around town that are zoned for condos, Trilogy would not purchase one of them.

“We only have so much real estate, and you’re asking to take our prime real estate and use it for something that may or may not help us,” Wild said.

“It is the diamond of our town,” Davies added, noting that a hotel helps support the people who have invested their time and money into their businesses and the community.

“We need the foot traffic so we can continue to be in business and pay our taxes,” said Knight.

“We understand there are other properties,” Karr said, “but we purchased this one and we’re allowed to make use of it.”

Many in attendance took issue with Trilogy’s planning and perceived secrecy regarding the third partner.

“I know you put a lot of money into this, and unfortunately you can’t use the property for what you want to do,” Brummel said. “You knew going in that it wasn’t zoned [for condos]. I’m surprised you spent that amount on a project that wasn’t allowed.”

“You’re either foolish, rash people or misadvised, or you planned to hold the city hostage,” added resident Anne Kruse. “They say that they knew, but it seems like they would have come in with a better plan or advice.” 

Troester felt the change should not even be considered without knowing who all is involved. Brummel agreed, stating, “We’ve been burned before with the golf course. The third party might not be someone we want to work with.”

“They can’t even say their names out loud and we’re supposed to trust them?” questioned Davies.

The motion made by councilwoman Rogeta Halvorson and seconded by councilman Joe Muehlbauer to deny the request was unanimously approved, with those two as well as Janet Hallberg, Jason Echard and Charlie Carroll all voting “yes.”

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