One state senator says it’s time for the Department of Natural Resources to relinquish management of the new Honey Creek Resort at Rathbun Lake. Michelle Wilson of the Department of Natural Resources is currently the project manager and she briefed state lawmakers earlier today.
“I’d like to invite all of you to come down to the resort…It’s very beautiful,” Wilson said. “…Since September, we have had…the Great Lodge facility with it’s doors open. We also last fall opened the 18 hole golf course, except we didn’t have all 18 holes available. Because of flooding that happened last summer, we had nine holes available.”
The state is investing up to $70 million in the 850 acre park. In addition to the lodge and golf course, Honey Creek has a conference center, a restaurant and an indoor waterpark. Some lawmakers worry about the park’s cost overruns and occupancy shortfalls, as net losses so far are about 10 percent higher than expected.
Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, didn’t find Wilson’s presentation encouraging. “I think it actually raised more questions than it answered,” McCoy says.
Supporters of the state’s first “destination park” say it’ll take a year to get a full picture of the operation’s potential. McCoy, though, has been a critic of the project, and he questions whether the state should put another $5 million into cabin construction this year. “i was trying to figure out, O.K., how are we going to open these by spring if, in fact, that’s what we have to do to get the revenue?” McCoy says. “The next thing is we’ve put FEMA dollars back into a golf course that flooded, yet we don’t know if that golf course is going to flood again. We don’t know if it’s going to be an 18-hole golf course or a nine-hole golf course.”
McCoy says the D.N.R. lacks the expertise to run a resort and he has filed a bill to turn over management of Honey Creek to a private company. Department of Natural Resources director Rich Leopold defends his agency’s management of Honey Creek. “There are concerns and everybody’s watching very closely,” Leopold says. “…I’ve been meeting with my staff to set out worst case scenarios all the way along to make sure the facility’s open and we’re making bond payments.”