After a rapid-fire series of public hearings Monday night, the Perry City Council passed four measures aimed at spurring economic development in the city.
Three related resolutions cleared the way for $350,000 in public funding for the Hotel Pattee, and the fourth resolution approved the sale of the former Perry Junior High School lot on Willis Avenue for $150,000 to a West Des Moines development company planning to build low-income senior apartments.
Praise for the recently reopened hotel was unanimous among council members and citizens alike in the first three open hearings, which together lasted about one hour. Opinions were equally united on the question of the Hotel Pattee’s importance to Perry’s future economic prosperity.
Mayor Jay Pattee opened the hearing with an eloquent speech about the hotel’s importance to the city’s identity—to the Perry brand, to use a marketing term—and its role as the nucleus of hoped-for economic growth.
Pattee said an article by Karen Summerson in the Nov. 15 Perry Chief perfectly captured the historical and cultural importance of the hotel to Perry, beyond its gorgeous appearance.
Council member Dr. Randy McCaulley praised Pattee’s speech. "I agree with everything you just said," he said.
According to the city’s economic development agreement with Pattee Hotel, LLC, the business will receive a $200,000 loan in early December. The loan will be forgiven at the end of three years if the hotel can show it employs at least 20 full-time workers and has an annual payroll of at least $380,000.
If the Hotel Pattee satisfies these terms, it will receive a second three-year loan of about $150,000, forgivable in the same way.
Dan Spellman, a prime mover in marshaling local investors behind the Hotel Pattee’s new owners, said the mayor’s speech had stolen his thunder. Spellman called the hotel "an iconic symbol of our community" and noted it will return commercial property taxes to city coffers in numbers almost equal to the city’s measure of support.
"I almost clapped," said Council Member Jenny Eklund at the end of Spellman’s remarks, and then she did clap and was joined by others in the council chambers.
Spellman also spoke about the Hotel Pattee’s aura and the powerful influence it has on visitors.
"We’ve brought site selectors here who were overwhelmed by the hotel," he said. "They couldn’t believe the quality and beauty of this resource in Perry."
Site selectors are used increasingly by companies looking to build new manufacturing plants. Selectors put cities through an 18-month screening process and eventually certify the ones meeting their criteria. Manufacturers rely on these ratings by site selectors, and Perry is currently seeking certification.
Rob Denson, president of the Des Moines Area Community College and board member on the Greater Dallas County Development Alliance, also spoke in support of the hotel resolutions, noting how few Iowa cities are certified and Perry stands a good chance.
Data centers, manufacturing companies and agribusinesses are especially keen in their use of site selectors now, Denson said, and the Hotel Pattee gives Perry a real edge in the competition to attract jobs.
Vicki Lage, treasurer of the Art on the Prairie organizing committee, said her group was "blessed" to be the first to host an event in the new Hotel Pattee. She said this year’s art festival drew an estimated 5,000 people to Perry, including international visitors she met from Canada, Australia, Belgium and Japan and Americans from as far away as Maine and California.
Lage said the generosity and hospitality her group received from Jay and Denise Hartz, owners and operators of the Hotel Pattee, was a welcome departure from the attitude of the hotel’s previous owners, Leisure Hotels of Leawood, Kan.
Council Member Phil Stone said, "People will ask us, ‘Where’s that money coming from for the Hotel Pattee?’" He emphasized the money for the hotel is not paid for by higher property taxes.
In order to fund the hotel, the city will use incremental property taxes generated within the Perry Urban Renewal Area. Also known as TIF financing, this scheme helps bootstrap economic development in poor or underdeveloped areas of the town.
TIF financing is a way of borrowing against the increasing tax revenues that follow from increasing property values. If you fix up a neighborhood, the property values in it increase and so do the taxes those properties generate, and this happens without raising the tax rate but simply by raising the values. TIF financing captures this margin of increase in advance, starting the ball of renewal rolling.
Perry Area Chamber of Commerce Director Bob Wilson also spoke in favor of the funding scheme in the public hearing. He noted that half of the Chamber’s funding comes from the city’s hotel and motel tax, so a prosperous Hotel Pattee equals a prosperous Chamber of Commerce.
Wilson said the Chamber’s activities are almost wholly to boosting local business, so a thriving hotel will have further ripple effects that help Perry’s economy.
The council’s fourth public hearing saw the city sell the vacant lot on Willis Avenue between 10th and 12th Streets to Newberry Living. Turn to Page One of today’s Perry Chief for a detailed account of Newberry’s plans for the grounds.
The next meeting of the Perry City Council occurs Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Clarion Room of City Hall, 1102 Wills Ave. Among the agenda items will be a public hearing on the Iowa Finance Authority’s Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program, which helps low- and moderate-income homeowners finance repairs and upgrades to their houses.