Matthew Godfrey, Morgan City’s economic development consultant, is “very confident” he has found a developer who wants to build a hotel in the area. However, Godfrey says a letter from the Morgan County Council supporting improvements along the banks of the Weber River near Como Springs and the county fairgrounds would go a long way in bringing a hotel project to fruition.
“I have two people who will build the hotel, people willing to invest in the community,” said Godfrey, who is not at liberty to release the names. “They need to see the county’s commitment.”
Godfrey said that two studies to verify the economics of a hotel in other city locations “do not validate demand.” However, a hotel in the Como Springs area has “tremendous potential,” he said. Godfrey said developers would like to start construction within a year.
Godfrey, with Better City, presented a map of the proposed Como Springs area complete with a 60-room hotel/reception area, hot springs pools, water slides, cable park for wake boarding and water skiing without a boat, small splash pad, volleyball court, picnic area, parking lot, RV park, campground, and snow tubing hill with a “magic carpet” lift.
“This could be an all-year-round family resort. It would restore a community asset, generate room nights and traffic to the community, and create economic development for small businesses along Commercial Street,” Godfrey said. He said recent interviews of business owners along the street reveal that “most are really struggling.”
Dean Graham, economic development director with Better City, said none of these proposals can move forward without restoring the Weber River, which flooded the Como Springs area last year.
“River restoration is a crux to get this economic development started,” Graham said.
Relocating and redesigning diversion structures and headgates, as well as pulling the banks of the river back, could lead to better flood control, said Crystal Young, with River Restoration.org.
As the banks are now, the river could only handle a 30-year flooding event. Her proposals would mean the river could handle a 100-year flooding event, or historically the worst flood in 100 years.
Her proposals include creating artificial ripples for fish habitat and improved fish passage. She said river restoration work in the area could also create recreational opportunities.
“It could improve recreational amenities for wave and white water features,” she said. “Morgan can capitalize on that.”
She said rafting companies would be attracted to the wave features.
The river restoration project carries a price tag of $3 million, most of which will be paid for by a grant secured by Godfrey from the EDA. It requires a 20 percent match from local governments.
Graham said two of three landowners in the area have agreed to donate easements to enable the river improvements. The firm just lacks the county’s support. The value of the easements can be counted toward the 20 percent match. Morgan City is excited to contribute as well.
Godfrey asked the county to consider donating $300,000 as their part of the match that would secure the grant. The CIB recently offered a zero interest loan for the $300,000, which would need to be paid back in 10 years. Godfrey said he has three other funding options he is pursuing for the $300,000 as well.
But county support could go a long way in jump starting this economic development opportunity, Godfrey said.
“You are the bid dog in this fight. We need you. We need you to jump in and link arms to find a way to make it work,” Godfrey told the county council. “Between all entities, this problem can be solved. We can come up with a solution that is palatable. This involves county property. We want to be tight with you.”
A majority of the county council voiced support of the plan, but most want public input before they make formal approvals or dedicate money to the project.
Councilman Lyle Nelson said the county could dip into the $14,000 flood account money, as well as economic development funds.
“$10,000 a year doesn’t sound hard to me,” he said.
Councilman Robert Kilmer voiced his support of the idea.
“We are at a serious crossroads,” Kilmer said. “We need to step up and do something to improve the county. This is a great opportunity. I would like to convince (the council) this is an economic seed we are planting that could grow, if nurtured, into economic development for the county.”
“This would be making Morgan a destination spot,” Councilman Don Mathews said. “For many years, Como Springs was a destination spot for people. This has the right pieces to develop into more than what we are seeing today.”
Godfrey said Morgan is a good place for this concept.
“This is an incredibly beautiful county with rich assets,” Godfrey said. “The bedroom community creates a lot of problems for tax base when people travel outside to work, shop and be entertained. You need a mechanism to bring money back in to pay for basic services.”
Mathews praised the recent efforts of the city for retaining an economic development consultant that fit their budget. He said the county needs similar assistance.
“Economic development is crucial for this council to decide,” said Nelson, who believes the county should establish tax incentives for business to locate in the valley. “This council needs to figure out where we are going.”
The item will be on the council’s Aug. 21 agenda.