Jeff council okays park grant application, allocating Welcome Center funding to TJ Gardens

There may be an Act II of college students in Jefferson next winter taking inventory, holding public meetings and writing proposals. Just as Iowa State University College of Design students did earlier this year with their Retail Scapes projects, another group of landscape architecture students could be using Jefferson’s city parks as their study subjects.

Jefferson park and recreation director Vicky Lautner outlined to the city council Tuesday night a National Park Service grant program for which JPRD is applying. There is no money involved in the grant, but the services of students in preparing a comprehensive plan that could be used in later funding applications.

Lautner has talked with Butch Niebuhr of Bolton and Menk about possible funding sources. Projects could include connecting Jefferson city parks with the Raccoon River Valley Trail, upgrading the walking trail and the river overlooks at Daubendiek Park, new playground equipment, or connecting the schools to city parks for safer travel when the parks are used for phys ed classes or other activities. (For example, Russell Park is a frequent destination for elementary and middle school classes.)

Lautner said she has contacted staff at the National Park Services and received encouragement to complete the application.

The city council approved a motion in support of the application and signed a letter of support.

Welcome Center: The council approved a change in the hotel/motel tax use policy to allow Thomas Jefferson Gardens to move toward completion of the Welcome Center located within the Gardens.

Money in the fund comes from a 7 percent tax on hotel lodging in the city. Eighty percent of the total fund is designated to promote tourism and convention business in Jefferson.

The council in February approved a three-tier policy that allows a maximum of $20,000 be allocated for the construction and operation of a Welcome Center. The Greene County Chamber of Commerce had started the Welcome Center project in 2013 and completed work on the exterior. Discussion between the Chamber and the council about use of the hotel/motel tax funds to complete interior work stalled the project. The policy finally approved by the council okayed the funds for the Welcome Center as “Tier Two,” but disagreement over Tier One funding led the Chamber to walk away from the project as not being in the best financial interests of the Chamber’s membership.

The Thomas Jefferson Gardens board is willing to pick up where the Chamber left off.

City attorney Bob Schwarzkopf told the council that any group looking to borrow money for the project would likely need collateral for the loan in addition to a council policy assuring yearly funding. He said there would also need to be a development agreement that would include a term of years for the hotel/motel tax funds to serve as collateral. It would be a separately negotiated agreement.

Council member Larry Teeples twice wanted reassurance there would be no guarantees of the money.

No one from the Thomas Jefferson Gardens board was present. Schwarzkopf said he had talked with TJ Gardens board president Tom Polking earlier in the day. Polking said his board is “still working on details” in securing a loan.

Schwarzkopf said the city would still ask to see detailed budgets for the project before approving a development agreement and funding.

The council unanimously approved a motion changing the recipient of Tier Two funding from the Greene County Chamber of Commerce to the Thomas Jefferson Gardens.

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