Keokuk is considering whether to spend about $300,000 on improvements to the entertainment barge docked along the Mississippi River. The city has said the financial impact on taxpayers could be minimal.
City Administrator Cole O’Donnell said the proposed improvements include running utilities such as electric, water, and sewer service from the shore to the barge and installing permanent entrance ramps.
“That is the minimum we think is necessary to try to start marketing the facility,” said O’Donnell. He said any significant interior/exterior work would be left to potential developers.
O’Donnell said Keokuk could pay for the utilities and the entrance ramps using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars. He said a percentage of property taxes collected in a TIF district can be used for infrastructure improvements.
“Under TIF, we are able to capture taxes from all the different taxing entities [such as the school and county] and use them to improve the district in some way,” said O’Donnell. “It does not increase anybody’s taxes. It just shifts them to the project.”
O’Donnell said there is an existing TIF district that stretches to the riverfront but excludes the barge, which sits on the Mississippi River. So the city council is considering a proposal to extend the boundary of the district to the middle of the river, which is in line with city limits.
A public hearing on the new boundaries is scheduled for early February.
“This gives us a little extra flexibility to be able to look at different ways to finance any improvements to the barge,” said O’Donnell. He said if TIF money is used, the city would borrow the money upfront and repay it using the TIF revenue.
O’Donnell said the city has also hired a company out of Texas to inspect the barge's structural integrity and look for signs of corrosion. He said it’s been about five years since the barge was inspected. At that time it was owned by a casino in the Quad Cities.
“So it’s due,” said O’Donnell. “We want to get in there and make sure everything is structural fine so we don’t run into a surprise and have to put more money into repairs midway through any renovation that might happen.”
The inspection will cost nearly $11,000. O’Donnell said it’s another step in the process of encouraging development of the barge.