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EcoRetreat plans to open in July

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The developer of an agri-tourism resort in Red Willow County told county commissioners Monday morning that she has one employee ready to start in mid-April, and hopes to open "EarthBlooms EcoRetreat" in July.

During their regular weekly meeting, commissioners also discussed the future of the apartment building the county bought in February, applying for "Recovery Zone" bonds and the status of a county loan to a medical clinic in McCook.

In August 2005, Andela Taylor of rural Cambridge was granted a $131,000 Tourism Development Initiative CDBG grant by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to create a hands-on retreat focusing on nature, wellness, culinary arts, arts and crafts, horticulture and agriculture. Taylor and her husband, Dave, are investing a matching $123,000 in financial and in-kind support to complete the project.

Taylor told commissioners during their regular meeting Monday morning that -- despite her plans to hire two full-time employees and open in July last year -- her retreat is not open. She said she has hired a recreation and events coordinator who is to start in mid-April.

Taylor said that delays in getting a contractor to finish siding and drywall on the retreat's main building "are probably a good thing," because that means, she said, that contractors are busy. "My contractor didn't show up in August, September, October or November," and an employee who was to start in January decided not to make the move, Taylor said. Plumbing, electrical and geothermal work are completed, she said, and another contractor will work this spring on the siding and drywall.

Taylor was uncomfortable Monday morning telling commissioners when she will open. "Hopefully in July," she said. "But I don't want to make any promises." Her good intentions don't always work out well, she said.

Taylor said state officials have no deadline for opening the retreat, but they do want to ensure that the 3 1/2 full-time positions required with acceptance of the grant are created. Taylor said that she will meet with DED officials in Lincoln this week and present job creation documentation to commissioners at their meeting April 12.

Commission Chairman Earl McNutt told Taylor, "We definitely want you on track" and fulfilling the plans and requirements of the grant. "We don't want any repercussions to fall on the county," he said, knowing that the county has experienced problems with repayment by several recipients of loans from the county's revolving loan program.

While the Taylors' grant is not tax money levied directly to Red Willow County tax payers, nor is it a loan from the county's revolving loan program, McNutt said, he is still aware that all grants are ultimately indeed tax payer money.

He said several county residents have expressed concerns about the eco retreat project, asking why it's taking so long to open and whether the county will lose money.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman announced the awarding of the Taylors' grant and two others in Columbus and Cherry County in August 2005. Taylor originally called the project "Hilton Farm Eco Retreat." The farm is located southeast of Bartley, on an isolated hilltop situated on pasture land along Silver Creek.

In March 2005, commissioners agreed to act as grant applicant for Taylor because NDED grants must be funneled through a governmental agency.

In May 2005, Taylor told commissioners that grant funds would be used to turn an existing 56x80-foot metal building into the "Eco-Retreat Center," improve the nearly-one-mile-long driveway, create a parking area, purchase equipment for food service and for maintenance and to add landscaping and theme gardens. Taylor's original proposal would have created five full-time jobs over 36 months. She said in March 2005 that she may be two years from operation.

In July 2009, a letter from the NDED to commissioners indicated that failure to meet the national job creation of CDBG grants as contracted may result in the payback of project funds (by the county and/or the Taylors) to the NDED.

Commissioners and deputy county attorney Phil Lyons set a public hearing for 9:30 a.m., Monday, May 10, to listen to suggestions from the public regarding options for the apartment building and garage at 524 Norris, including leasing them or selling them with the stipulation that they be moved from the lot.

Either option would benefit the county -- leasing, by putting the property back on the tax rolls; selling, by adding sale proceed to the county coffers.

In other action with Lyons, commissioners came out of a 20-minute closed session and directed Rex Nelson, coordinator of the county's revolving loan fund program, to set up a date and time to collect intellectual properties of the defunct Pawnee Aviation from owner Ron Willocks of Longmont, Colo.

Lyons said that he and county attorney Paul Wood continue to work on resolving the issues of storage fees owed on and getting possession of Pawnee Aviation's helicopter.

Action taken by commissioners Monday morning regarding the sale of property on which the county holds a lien was most likely negated when the property owner made a late payment and the April payment Monday afternoon on its loan from the county's revolving loan fund program.

Camy Bradley of McCook Abstract Co. told commissioners that High Plains Management LLC, owner of Quality Urgent Care in McCook, wants to sell the vacant lot behind the clinic on North Highway 83 and is requesting a partial release of the county's lien on the property. Bradley said that the Small Business Administration has already made the release and that TierOne Bank has verbally agreed to the release.

Commissioner Leigh Hoyt said he is reluctant to release the lien when Quality Urgent Care has not made its March payment. The payment of $1,289.16 is due the tenth of each month. In a motion that passed unanimously, Hoyt requested that Quality Urgent Care use proceeds of the sale to bring its loan current and to apply $5,000 to the principal of the loan. Quality Urgent Care borrowed $70,000 in July 2009.

Monday afternoon, Quality Urgent Care paid the March and April payments.

Hoyt said this morning commissioners will most likely have to discuss the situation and the request to make a partial release at their next meeting.

The county treasurer's monthly report on the revolving loan program indicates that revolving loan recipients who are current on their payments are Pet Pros, Kevin Grooms, ap images, McCook Eye Clinic and Willow Creek Meats.

The deadline for the county to apply for federal "Recovery Zone" bonds is July 1. "We replied earlier that we could possibly use the bonds," Commission Chairman Earl McNutt said, explaining that the county would be "basically getting borrowed money for less interest" when the government pays 50 percent of the bond's interest when the project is paid off.

The county is eligible to borrow $738,000.

However, if a private borrower were to apply for Recovery Zone bonds, he/she would be eligible for $1.1 million. Hoyt asked Nelson to check into the possibility of an organization/business converting what remains of the original Wal-Mart in the Westview Plaza into a community center with large hall, meeting rooms and a kitchen.

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I hope the local group wanting to save historic sites gets involved with saving the home of one of McCook's former Governor's, Ralph Brooks. That is really way more historic than a old school. And what is the plan the commissioners have for using that site? Surely they are not thinking about a law enforcement/jail there on highly visible Norris near a park, church and school. Did the county ask the city to come on board with there plans as the commissioners have been critical of the city in the past for their efforts to cooperate on a joint facility? Is it true that the commissioners already have blue prints for the new facility?

-- Posted by dennis on Wed, Apr 7, 2010, at 8:23 AM

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