Clear Lake council approves Destination Iowa application for Surf District redevelopment project

CLEAR LAKE — The Clear Lake City Council held a special meeting last night to approve the city’s application to the Destination Iowa grant program for a proposed redevelopment project in the Surf District.

The city is looking to make several improvements to the area surrounding the Surf Ballroom, including the construction of a boutique-style hotel as well as other commercial and retail development, and making a pathway  between the Surf and the lake.

City Administrator Scott Flory says the city needs to focus on reinvigorating the area around the Surf for the neighborhood’s future.  “It’s starting to show some wear, maybe even looking a little tired in some cases, and showing some signs of disinvestment if you will. I think one of the drivers here is to transform that district and do the things that we can in terms of building up a district that will ensure that the Surf Ballroom is sustainable and resilient well into the future. I think we do that by being aggressive and bold with some of these initiatives that we’re talking about here tonight.

The original Surf Ballroom when built in 1933 was lakeside, but the current building is blocked off from the lake by a row of houses. Flory says the city would use the Fox House property directly across the street to open up access to the lake with a pathway and dock.  “This plan and the associated budget envision using the Fox House yard for access. The promenade and pavilion would contain public art related to the musical heritage of the Surf District. A city-owned and maintained floating dock with boat slips would connect to the Fox House property and the promenade. The dock would provide quick pick up and drop off for boaters and have temporary mooring available. Boaters can park in one of the short-term boat slips and enjoy the lake.”

Governor Reynolds earlier this year set aside $100 million in federal pandemic relief money to finance new tourist attractions and enhance existing sites. Flory says in talking with Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham at the start of the application process, she told him the placemaking component of this program was for projects that you could not do in some other community. Flory says this project fits that description.  “So when you look at some of these other projects, and maybe some of the other funding buckets that are being done, trails and those kinds of things, ball fields, those can be done pretty much anywhere, but there’s only one community that has Clear Lake, and there’s only one community that has the Surf Ballroom. I think that for us is something that we can certainly boast about that other communities just don’t have that. They can create other opportunities, but again, building on our greatest natural asset and our greatest man-made asset, that is what we’re attempting to do here with this application.”

The city is asking for about $4.3 million from the Destination Iowa program for the project. The deadline for filing the application is this Friday, with the state making awards likely later this year.