New community development director has busy first six months
LE MARS — Community Development Director Mark Gaul, who started work on July 25, was one of four department heads asked to deliver an annual plan to the Le Mars City Council at its Jan. 17 meeting.
Gaul said he was actually giving a six-month report, and it has been a busy introduction to the city. He said he is working with multiple people and organizations across the city.
Gaul said he was tasked with creating a long-term plan taking into account future commercial development, industrial development, residential development, and quality of place.
“The goal is to be more intentional about community development and to have goals and objectives to set priorities for development moving forward,” he said in the report.
Mayor Rob Bixenman appointed members of a committee to select an engineering/planning firms to help guide the city. In November, ISG Engineering of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was chosen.
“In early January 2023, the steering committee met with ISG to set vision statements as the foundation for developing the community development plan,” Gaul stated in the report. “The steering committee identified key groups and organizations to be invited for input meetings. The purpose of the input meetings will begin to set goals and objectives in each of the categories identified in the RFP. Invitations have been sent and there will be a series of six input meetings with key groups and organizations that will take place over a two-day period on Jan. 25-26.”
The goal is to unveil a community development plan in September.
Gaul said the “most important part” of his job is to get to know local business owners and managers and show them the city is supportive and wants to help them grow.
He talked about ongoing efforts to prepare more lots in Le Mars Industrial Park, where the inventory is down to six lots. Work is planned to level more ground and have lots ready as soon as possible.
The newly named Southview Industrial Park, formerly the Le Mars South Industrial Park, will offer smaller industrial lots from one half to one acre to accommodate smaller light industrial, service businesses or storage businesses. JEO Engineering of South Sioux City, Nebraska, has been hired to prepare a plan to plat and develop the lots.
Gaul reported that the rail transload services to the Le Mars Industrial Park has topped the 1,500-car threshold established as an annual goal. After that figure is reached, the city receives a $25 payment per car.
In 2022, there were 1,812 cars, for a total payment of $7,800.
“We continue to work with Burlington Junction to identify additional opportunities to grow the rail business at the transload facility,” Gaul reported. “The city, Le Mars Business Initiative Corporation (LBIC) and Burlington Junction are in the process of designing an expansion of the transload rail facility on two additional industrial lots and creating additional rail business in 2023.”
He noted that LBIC has acquired a 1.1-acre commercial lot on Business 75 near Brock Auction Co. and it will be marketed for a suitable commercial business.
Gaul said he works with existing commercial businesses and prospective commercial businesses to assist with finding whatever assistance they might need to explore getting started, to locate in Le Mars or to expand an existing commercial business. There are a lot of inquiries, he told the council.
“The moral of that story is, there’s some good flow in Le Mars, Iowa,” Gaul said. “We’re seen and we’re getting noticed when it comes to commercial opportunities.”
There are challenges, Gaul said.
The last of the LBIC multi-family lots located near the Le Mars Airport have been sold and there are currently no more available lots in that area.
“It is necessary to identify a new area to develop multi-family projects,” he said. “There are interested parties in developing additional multi-family projects and no readily available lots for those projects. We are working to create an area for multi-family housing.”
Both multi-family developers and single-family builders continue to express interest in Le Mars, he said. Gaul said he is ensuring local multi-family developers receive assistance, including helping them secure financial assistance such as lowa Workforce Housing Tax Credits. He also maintains contact with residential developers for single family housing to ensure that there are ample choices and price ranges for single family housing lots.
There is a definite need for more day-care providers in Le Mars.
The LBIC completed a market study of daycare needs and found parents are seeking more than 500 daycare spots in city. A task force was created to develop a strategic plan to address the need and has been meeting to devise a plan, Gaul said. The plan focuses on two areas.
“The first being creating awareness with existing providers of the shortage, encouraging them to increase their capacity and finding resources to help them do so,” he said. “The second and more long term is to explore the potential of an additional community daycare center. To date, the task force has met with many of the existing day-care providers to create the awareness. They have also created a web page on the LBIC website with resources to assist existing daycares expand. The taskforce has met with regional and state resource providers and hosted informational meetings for our existing providers. Moving forward, the taskforce will continue to facilitate resources for existing providers to create additional spots and to continue to explore the potential of a community daycare center.”
Gaul said in his role as community development director, he provides staff support for the LBIC.
“Those duties include day-to-day operations to take care of LBIC business responsibilities — paying expenses, tracking contracts and agreements and ensuring compliance, reporting, responding to inquiries, preparing for board meetings, or any additional duties identified by the board of directors,” he said.
In addition, Gaul updates the LBIC website at growlemars.com and ensures it has an active web presence.