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Are you Marion material?
by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · February 1st, 2018

From a nearly empty room to more than 500 people in 10 minutes - that's what it was like at the Collins Road Marriott from 11 to 11:10 a.m. last Thursday. Before Mayor Nick AbouAssaly gave his presentation, President and CEO of Marion Process Solutions Lee Eilers, who also serves as chair of the Marion Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors, gave a brief speech with a talking point of "Are you Marion material?" This question left the crowd of hundreds wondering how they can continually grow and participate within the community.

After a quick lunch, Mayor Nick AbouAssaly took to the podium with remarks about the state of the city. Almost all of those remarks were positive.

Mayor Nick first spoke about how hard it is to adapt to the unknown. But he noted that without change, there can be no new opportunities.

He added that Marion is dealing well with change and fulfilling opportunities for people of all ages, all backgrounds.

Then the mayor shared the priorities which the City Council and staff have set.

Zero waste and energy independent

Planned growth with attention to where and what kind

Redevelopment for a vibrant city center

Higher design standards to add value

An improved transportation system

Investing in physical spaces which complement an active lifestyle, the arts and attractive areas are important, too. Mayor Nick mentioned the Uptown Artway, the Klopfenstein Amphitheater and other parts of Lowe Park. He also mentioned Waldo's Rock Park and area trails.

The population may very well be over 40,000 by now. Growth has resulted in Marion's total real estate valuation being more than $1 billion.

Roads are a major part of its capital projects: Tower Terrace, Armar Drive, Alburnett Road and the Central Corridor.

Other upgrades include a possible municipal aquatics center, a new public services area, and other entities.

Within the area of commercial growth, Mayor Nick mentioned the medical facility on Tower Terrace Road, Squaw Creek Crossing with a Country Inn & Suites, and the TownePlace Suites by Marriott hotel.

The Uptown area has a number of new businesses funded with private investments and state grants. Also, the Mayor mentioned the mixed-use library that is expected soon.

Commercial properties on the east side of town also have shown growth. Two major projects are the YMCA and the Prospect Meadows Baseball complex.

Mayor Nick noted that both MEDCO and the Chamber are "indispensable partners" when it comes to economic development.

Another positive that the Mayor mentioned is the high quality of city services from the staff and City Council members, more than 220 people in all. Marion ranks as one of the safest cities in Iowa, it has been called one of America's best small cities, and only three cities in Iowa have a higher bond rating.

The mayor, council and city staff all have worked to be accessible. Council members are at the library every Saturday, the mayor has coffee or lunch with residents on a regular basis, and the City attempts to reach all residents through a variety of media, from print to social media.

The area of service to seniors is another place that has seen positive change. Soon there will be senior dining four days a week, and a number of entities will be collaborating to provide more for seniors. Reducing food insecurity and a mobile food bank are also helping.

The Marion Public Library plays a huge part in life in the community, with presentations, classes, and all kinds of other activities. Computers and hotspots are available as well as books and DVDs.

The next visioning is ImagiNext, which will help the community narrow down a list of over 3,000 items to just a few really important projects to focus on in the next few years.

In the meantime, Mayor Nick urged people to "continue working together for the greater good of this community and this region." He added, "We have the choice to sit on the sidelines, or jump in" and make a positive impact on the community and its future.

What is your choice going to be?
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