Marquette moves forward with overlook and boardwalk project

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Marquette moved forward with its overlook and boardwalk project March 11, awarding a contract to Taylor Construction, Inc., of New Vienna, for $1,112,315.70.

The bid was 19 percent over the estimated construction cost of $932,286, said project manager Tim Cutsforth, of H.R. Green, Inc., of Cedar Rapids. 

Cutsforth has worked with the city over the past two years to develop plans for the project, which will include the construction of a shelter and overlook deck at the foot of Emma Big Bear Trail (the old bridge approach). These structures will be cocked into the bluffside, giving visitors a unique view of the surrounding area. Stairs allowing people to travel up the bluff to the overlook will also be added. Down below, a boardwalk will be constructed out into the river. No fishing will be allowed from the pier, but visitors can enjoy viewing the river by walking  the length of the boardwalk or sitting on one of several benches. Kiosks will provide information about local history and wildlife.

In February, the project was bid a second time after the first letting several months ago yielded just one bid that was 79 percent over the engineer’s opinion of probable cost, which, at that time, was just over $600,000. In order to attract more bidders—and hopefully a lower cost—the second time around, the project cost was re-estimated and the start date pushed back to fall 2015, rather than summer.

While the new bid came in nearly $4,000 less, said Cutsforth, there was still just one bidder—Taylor. Cutsforth said there wasn’t a lack of interest in the project, rather contractors have a lot of work and some were uncomfortable with the uniqueness of the project.

“It’s a special project and not typical of something they’d normally do,” he explained. “It’s not like building a bridge.”

Cutsforth added that Taylor is a reputable contractor, noting, “I believe they really want to put their name on this job.”

With the new construction cost, the project total comes to $1.3 million, including $208,419 for engineering, permitting and other bid letting requirements. To date, over $100,000 has been paid. A $332,800 grant from the federal Scenic Byways program of the Mississippi Parkway Commission brings the net total to $987,934, said city manager Dean Hilgerson. Marquette taxpayers will bear none of that cost, Hilgerson stressed, adding that TIF funding will cover much of it.

“That comes back, intact, and with interest,” he said. “If we move forward, it’s not compromising the budget or our ability to work on other projects.”

Several Marquette residents voiced support for the project, including Tracy Melver, who passed around a petition with over 50 signatures from residents from North Street, the Bench and Timber Ridge who were in favor of the project.

“It didn’t take long to go around and get 50 signatures of people who support it. If you talk to people and give them the facts, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “If you want to bring business to town, this is a way to do that.”

“Most businesses think this is a wonderful project,” added councilwoman Rinda Ferguson. “We need to consider our businesses. They need more reasons for people to stop.”

Adding unique activities that build tourism will translate into a positive for local businesses, said Don Ostert, Marquette resident and general manager of Lady Luck Casino in Marquette, speaking in favor of the project.

“Having more things to do will make people stay longer and they will make more repeat visits,” he said. “Effective community tourism development aims to give visitors an authentic, high-quality experience that they will remember for a long time. I feel adding attractions to the area such as this adds to Marquette’s uniqueness and takes advantage of the area’s strengths.”

“The river’s where it’s at,” said mayor Norma Mason, speaking of the boardwalk. “A lot of people have never been out on the river like that. And that’s only half the project. The overlook will have a shelter for weddings, picnics and other activities.”

Councilman Galen McShane agreed the river is a big draw, noting that the overlook and boardwalk will enhance how Marquette looks and give locals and visitors something to do. However, he said, he hoped the project would bring more people off the river.

“The river is full of tourists. Most people don’t live here and come on the weekends, but do they have a place to stop? Not really,” he said. “It would be nice to have an area for public docking and signage that says what there is to do in town.”

Cutsforth said the city discussed making that aspect part of the project, but did not want to incur additional costs. There are future opportunities, though, to add slips for public dockage, he said. 

McShane said he was also leery of the project cost.

“I don’t like to spend money just to spend it,” he said. “I feel uneasy. Is this going to happen all the time [with bids being over cost]?”

While the unique project and higher construction costs upped the total, Hilgerson said many of the city’s other projects over the years have also exceeded estimates.

“My hang up is that, seemingly overnight, the project cost doubled,” said councilman John Ries. “I don’t want to approve it and find six months from now that the project cost has doubled again.”

He also feared boardwalk work may damage the retaining walls of nearby properties. Cutsforth said residents can expect to feel the work and hear the noise when construction begins, but that work will take place far enough away to prevent any damage.

“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t talk this out,” Ries added.

When considering whether or not to approve the overlook and boardwalk project, councilman Jason Winter agreed the council had a duty to Marquette residents.

“I think we’ve all brought up some valid points,” he said, “but, I think, at this point, with the grant, TIF funding and money we already have invested, we’d be disrespecting the taxpayers if we don’t do it.”

On that note, Ferguson motioned to award the contract to Taylor Construction, which Winter seconded. Ferguson, Winter, Ries and McShane all voted “yes” to move forward. Councilwoman Cindy Halvorson was absent.

Wetlands Centre position

The council agreed to up Driftless Area Wetlands Centre Director Katrina Moyna to full-time through November, at which time the position will be re-evaluated. Aside from Wetlands Centre upkeep and programming, Moyna’s duties will include tourism and economic development.

City evacuation plan

Mason and Hilgerson said Marquette is in the planning stages of creating an evacuation plan in case of a train derailment or incident in the community. More information will be presented at a future meeting.

Casino negotiations

Mason and Hilgerson also had a preliminary contract discussion with representatives from Lady Luck Casino. Representatives will next consult with the attorney for the city and the attorney of the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation. Mason said casino representatives mentioned the casino will go through a transition in the next several years that may result in a 30 to 40 percent net reduction to the city in gaming revenue.

Meeting change

Beginning Tuesday, April 21, the council will move its regular meetings back to the third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m.

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