Councilman floats idea of downtown facility
Councilmember Kathy Voskuil is co-sponsoring the agenda item.
Rashkin dreams of a high-tech education facility with space for schools and retraining. It could include retail on the first floors and housing on the upper floors, he said.
Employers now often rent conference rooms in hotels for training, Rashkin said.
“I would hope and expect the feasibility study to determine if there is more need of those types of facilities than we currently have, since part of the benefit of this project should be to help our existing local businesses,” he said.
Schools, such as UW-Rock County, might need space, as might other franchise schools, such as Upper Iowa University.
Rashkin said the need for an education facility became apparent after he started talking to leaders and community groups.
“I started talking to all these groups, and all of their goals and missions would be accomplished with a project such as this,” he said.
The facility could include lodging, since people attending training often want to stay close to where they are being trained, he said.
And Mercy Health Systems has expressed an interest in a downtown hotel, he said.
Now is the time to pursue such an effort, Rashkin said.
GM’s closing, along with the closing of many of its dependent industries here, creates a huge need for retraining, he said.
The city and county might be in positions to receive funds for such a project. The city also could contribute TIF funds, he said.
Such a facility would bring people downtown.
The results of previous efforts to reinvigorate the downtown have been spotty, he said.
“It seems like maybe the way to bring the downtown back is to have a facility where people have to go to on a daily basis.
“I think the key, there, is to have all the stakeholders at the table,” he said.
The facility could be housed in existing buildings or in a new building, he said.
“When I talked to some of the business leaders … they would surely like to see a new building come in and upgrade the area, as well.
“It depends on what financing sources are available.”
If the council approves, the city could use its economic development contacts and its resources to more fully explore the idea, he said.
This idea has been tossed around before, Rashkin acknowledged.
“Maybe the time is now,” he said.
“We have a unique, wonderful opportunity—considering all the terrible news coming out of GM—(to) capitalize on all of the assistance we’re likely to get to invest in our future.”