Elkader Council supports Motor Mill Inn restoration project

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The Elkader City Council, at its latest meeting, pledged $4,500 in support of the Motor Mil Inn restoration project. (Times-Register file photo)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


It was a packed agenda at last week’s Elkader City Council meeting, starting with a presentation by Clayton County Conservation Director Jenna Pollock, who discussed the planned restoration of the inn at Motor Mill. Pollock was there to highlight aspects of the restoration as well as funding sources, namely the Enhance Iowa/CAT grant, which requires some level of local commitment. As Pollock jokingly said, she was there to “ask for money.” 


In this case, there is a sense of urgency attached to the request. This grant application is coming up July 19 to Aug. 23, and to be eligible for the $100,000, the conservation board and Motor Mill Foundation need to raise $3,000 minimum. But, according to Pollock, “the more we raise during that period, the better our chance of receiving the grant. It also shows the city is committed to the project and helps us advocate for it.” 


Pollock said other funding sources are being pursued through additional grants and the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation, as well as private business donations, all of which will be needed to cover the estimated $450,000 price tag. That includes architecture fees, construction, installing a phone system and internet service, contingency furnishings and displays. 


Pollock said the project objective is to “re-purpose and give purpose to the inn to accommodate guests. To return it to its original purpose.”


The idea is to make the inn a retreat destination that will enhance the visitor experience and expand on the interpretive message of Iowa’s early agricultural history and evolution. 


More specifically, “It will add overnight accommodations in the county and generate revenue for future maintenance and preservation of the Motor Mill Historic District. The inn will serve as the welcome center to the site and guided tours will dispense from that location to learn about Motor’s past. We anticipate artisans, ag tourism, recreation travelers, nature lovers and community members will reserve the site for family and friends visiting,” Pollock said. 


Council member Peggy Lane brought up the issue of flooding and how that will be managed. Pollock informed the council the entire first floor will be remodeled more modernly than the other floors, meaning it will be easier to clean and damage won’t be as extensive. 


On the mind of council member Tony Hauber was possible revenue that might be gained from the restoration. At the meeting, Pollock suggested the inn could earn about $22,000 a year. This was a “conservative estimate,” but it’s also “more than we have now,” she added. 


Pollock said revenue expectations increase over the long-term, but first the project needs to be completed and the notoriety of the restoration needs to be promoted to attract visitors.  


Discussion over funding continued, as did the value of the restoration to the community. Mayor Josh Pope expressed support, saying, “I look at the benefit this is going to be because it’s just another bed that we don’t have in Elkader. I think we will see well more than our $4,500 we invest. I think this project is kind of a different project because it’s staying in the area.” 


Hauber, in a separate interview, likewise stated, “Motor Mill is an awesome piece of historic property, and the project to restore some lodging there will yield a lot of value for the area. Jenna is also a prolific fundraiser, and her ability to secure grants to fund a large percentage of this makes our contribution a lot easier to commit to.”


In an interview, Pollock discussed the value of the Motor Mill Historic District, beyond just it’s revenue capabilities, but its intrinsic value to the landscape and culture. 


“It is a beloved property, not only in our community, but visitors from across the world.  This is a historic structure preservation project that pairs well to meet a community need by increasing overnight accommodations in our rural county and provide an immersive and extended experience for visitors of the site,” Pollock said. 


At the meeting, Koehn moved to draft a letter of commitment for $4,500 for fiscal year 2023—a motion that was unanimously supported. The project is tentatively scheduled to start in August 2021 and be completed in time for the inn to open by May 2023.

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