A citizen advisory board Monday named Iowa’s first three “Great Places.” The finalists chosen for developing the state’s next tourist attraction will be Clinton, Coon Rapids, and Sioux City. The chair of the advisory board, Bill Menner, says nearly 150 communities applied to be great places — and every one of them had something unique to offer.

The benefit for the other communities, he says, is that they’ll be ready to take advantage of “Great Places” next year, when lawmakers approve money for it. Menner points out another benefit is that they’ve gone through months of preparation with coaches from state government, learning how to refine and expand their projects. Some have thanked Menner for letting them go through it, because even if they weren’t picked this time they’re better off than they were three months ago.

Menner says Clinton and Sioux City are hoping to revitalize their riverfront while Coon Rapids is developing a nature conservancy. Coon Rapids is a small town, just over 1000 people, but recently had a thousand acres of pristine land donated into a conservancy and today are talking about developing eco-tourism, conservation practices and sustainable living, components the panel found compelling.

A citizen advisory committee selected the top three communities from more than 145 applicants. He says Clinton had a project that included the riverfront, the Largest Lighthouse in North America, and other components of its “Gateway to the State.” In Sioux City’s case, Menner says it was a far-reaching proposal that ties into the town’s riverfront, includes historic preservation, an architectural component and some other urban re-development. He adds all three cities chosen had very different projects, but all deserved the “Great Places” designation.

No new money was appropriated for the Great Places project, so Menner says the communities chosen haven’t come into any “windfall.” State agencies will come to help them with only the revenue that’s already in their budgets — though they might be able to find programs that fit, loans or grants or initiatives that fit the Great Places proposal when they start looking at it. Menner says “When you’re at the table with these 18 state agencies, suddenly it falls into place.” The advisory board hopes the communities can show some progress by spring so the Iowa legislature will provide funding for a new round of Great Places communities next year.