Iowa will spend $16 million of ARPA funds on tourism projects

(The Center Square) – The Iowa Economic Development Authority announced Tuesday the state will spend $16 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for three tourism projects.

This is the third round of funding for the $100 million Destination Iowa program announced in April. The program invests in “transformational attractions” to improve quality of life in Iowa communities and attract visitors and new residents, a news release from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office said.

The City of Dyersville received $12.5 million for the This is Iowa Ballpark project to create a permanent, multi-use stadium to host professional baseball games, collegiate baseball tournaments and other year-round events. The award is 25% of the total project investment of $50 million. It will be used for stadium infrastructure. The stadium is part of a larger, phased project with an initial private investment of $80 million of nine ball fields, a hotel and event space, and an outdoor concert amphitheater, the release said.

The City of Marion has been awarded $3 million for the city’s Central Plaza, a year-round gathering space, the release said. The money will also help complete the CeMar Trail, connecting downtown Marion to Cedar Rapids. The plaza will have a performance space, an ice skating loop, fire tables and seating, interactive play sculptures and green space additions. The award pays 40% of the total project investment of about $9 million.

The Danville Railcar Project received $500,000 to buy and restore a 1937 European Oppeln Boxcar. The boxcar will add interpretation and educational opportunities to the existing Anne Frank Pen Pal exhibit in Danville. The project also includes parking lot and accessibility improvements. The award is 88% of the total project investment of $566,338.

IEDA will accept grant applications from governments, nonprofits and other organizations through the end of the year or until funding runs out. Applications are scored based on eligibility, completeness, and the project’s ability to meet the program goal of creating transformational tourism attractions, the release said. There are four separate funds: Economically Significant Development, Outdoor Recreation, Tourism Attraction and Creative Placemaking.

John Mozena, president of the Michigan-based The Center for Economic Accountability, said the communities could pay for their own marketing programs. If he were a taxpayer in another part of Iowa, he’d be asking why his tax dollars were going to attract tourists to Dyserville, Marion or Danville instead of his community, he said.

“‘Funding for this program is being made available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act,’” Mozena said, quoting the IEDA news release.

He added: “Across the country, state and local elected officials got huge piles of federal money to play with in the name of ‘COVID relief’ and they’re spending it on increasingly stupid things. That’s especially true in places where politicians are running for reelection and want to be able to take credit for bringing home the bacon to their voters.”

Mozena said he believes it’s an example of unprecedented federal spending that’s not necessarily benefiting the economy.

“When people hear that unprecedented federal spending is driving up inflation, this is one of the kinds of spending they’re talking about, which raises the question of whether the pain we’re feeling is worth the gains we’re getting,” he said. “I suspect that the average local resident in these communities would happily trade these projects – and all the other ones like them across the country – for lower prices at the grocery store and gas pump.”

He said communities always overestimate the value tourism brings to an economy and they always overspend trying to attract tourism.

“Even the busiest Major League Baseball stadiums only bring in as many customers each year as a single Walmart Supercenter or other successful big-box store,” he said.

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