Public Meeting - Residents share thoughts on hotel

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This is a drawing of what a proposed hotel in Elkader might look like. The facility would have 36-40 rooms, an indoor pool and a museum.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Area residents packed the Elkader Opera House last Monday night to hear about a proposed hotel for the town and to share their opinions on the project.

“There are still a lot of questions and things to address before we enter into any sort of developer’s agreement,” admitted Emily Yaddof Gibbs, director of Elkader’s economic development and Main Street initiatives. “But we felt it was time to share what we do know with you.”

And here’s what’s known: Algerian businessman Abdelmalek (Malek) Sahraoui wants to construct a 36- to 40-room hotel in City Park in the space between the current swimming pool and shelter house. The hotel would have an indoor pool, a prayer room (not a mosque) and a museum to share the history of Elkader and its sister city, Mascara, Algeria. As part of the plan, Sahraoui has suggested that he might also cover the cost of a new municipal swimming pool and renovations to the shelter house, including heating and air conditioning to make it useable year-round. The current pool, which is older and often needs repairs, operates at an annual loss of $30,000 to $40,000. The shelter house is in need of extensive repairs, as well. Estimates place that project at $75,000.

“In addition to these improvements, a hotel will offer other benefits like jobs, increased tourism and hotel/motel tax revenue as well as property tax revenue,” Yaddof Gibbs said.

A feasibility study was conducted in 2010 to determine whether or not the town could support a hotel. That study concluded that a “44-room, limited-service, mid-priced hotel” would do well in this market. Estimated tax revenue would be in the tens of thousands of dollars range, annually.

Few present objected to the project but many voiced their concerns over the location. Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert said Sahraoui was shown other parcels but he preferred the park for its proximity to downtown and its visibility from Highway 13. She also explained that city-owned land could not be given to Sahraoui but could be sold at market value or leased.

City Park lies in a flood plain, which was a concern mentioned by a few people. Yaddof Gibbs noted that the area under consideration was dry in 2008 but precautions against possible flooding would still need to be taken. A resident asked whether the parcel’s flood plain status would raise permitting concerns with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources or the Army Corps of Engineers. Cowsert clarified that flood ways need DNR and Army Corps permits; permits for flood plains can be issued by the city.

Since the proposed hotel would be built without taxpayer money, the decision to move forward can be made by the City Council. However, several present suggested area residents should have the opportunity to vote on the project. 

Elkader native and former Register publisher Bob Griffith noted that the hotel project “did not come out of the blue. These ideas have floated around for 40 years,” he said, adding that a hotel is the sort of amenity the city needs to offer in order to move forward.

Amenities were also on the mind of former Elkader mayor Bob Garms: “Swimming pools are a hole in the ground that you pour money into,” he said. “They lose money. The library loses money. The police department loses money. But these are the amenities and services that attract people to the community.”

Though Sahraoui has visited Elkader several times, few residents know him personally. Those who do, spoke highly of his character and business sense.

“I’ve been on his farms. I’ve stopped at his gas stations throughout Algeria,” said FreedomBank president Keith Garms. “By the way, Algeria is a country without debt and (Malek) doesn’t plan on having any debt here, either.”

Sahraoui has promised to buy local materials—from the carpet to the roof, according to Yaddof Gibbs. He has also promised to use local builders and hire local workers to run the proposed hotel. Despite that, the prospect of him receiving “something for nothing” did not sit well with several who attended the meeting.

“The heart of the matter for me, personally, is that nobody has ever given me anything for free,” said local businessman Frederique Boudouani. “I work hard at making a living here, and I’m uneasy that somebody could come here and get something for free.”

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