The new director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says a state park resort in southern Iowa seems to have turned a corner, but isn’t making enough money to pay off the loans used to finance its construction. D.N.R. director Chuck Gipp voted to create the Honey Creek State Park Resort when he was a member of the Iowa House.
“It was originally supposed to look like Lake Mahoney State Park, a destination park just across (the border) in Omaha. It was chosen to go down to Lake Rathbun,” Gipp says. “Those of us who were also involved saw that southern Iowa, at that particular time, wasn’t able to benefit much from the Vision Iowa program which allowed for community attractions across the Iowa landscape and that was their opportunity to do that.”
But Honey Creek has been plagued by problems, starting with delays in construction. The state-run resort finally opened in 2008. “It has had trouble making money,” Gipp says. “Part of that is because the hospitality industry at the same time has had trouble making money. It fell on hard times. It had tremendous flooding down there that make it inaccessible. It had some damage at that particular time and it all came into be kind of in a perfect storm at a time when it was particularly difficult for the hospitality industry.”
Some legislators have argued Honey Creek should be sold. Gipp says the state should keep it. “At this point in time, unless there’s somebody that comes along and is willing to pay what the worth of what that facility is, we’re not going to sell it at 10-cents-on-the-dollar. That would be foolish,” Gipp says.
“The other thing that people need to know about Honey Creek State Park: while the economy was going down and therefore the sales tax revenue in a number of counties was also falling, Wayne and Appanoose County which is located next to Honey Creek State Park — their state sales tax collections went up, so what that indicates is the only thing that had changed for the sales tax collection part was that Honey Creek State Park was there and there were a number of people coming to Honey Creek State Park to enjoy those great facilities down there.”
The park has a hotel with over 100 guest rooms, 28 guest cottages, a convention center, an indoor water park and an 18-hole golf course. Honey Creek Resort turned a small operating profit of $4,200 last year. However, Gipp’s agency had to cover the nearly two-million dollar annual payment on the bonds or loans the state used to finance Honey Creek’s construction.
About 30 million dollars is left to pay off. “We, as a state, have got to quit arguing about how we got there,” Gipp says. “It is a debt of the state and we’re going to have to retire that debt.” Gipp made his comments during an appearance on “Iowa Press” which aired Friday night on Iowa Public Television.