Fort Madison Begins Phased Marina Renovation and Upgrade

The City of Fort Madison, Iowa, had reached a crisis point with its municipal marina in 2020. The wooden docks were old, some were unusable, and maintenance work around the site had been postponed due to the marina operator’s lack of funds. In addition, three 500-year floods (in 1993, 2008 and 2019) had damaged the marina and silted in the basin. The restaurant had closed after the second flood.

“We knew that we had to either close the doors or do something that is sustainable,” said Matt Mohrfeld, the mayor of Fort Madison. “So we put together a task force of some key people from business, economic development, the city council, city staff, and the county.” The goal was to create a long-term plan to develop a 5-star marina and provide sufficient funding for its long-term upkeep.

Fort Madison, located in southeast part of Iowa, along one of the widest sections of the Mississippi River, has just launched its ambitious rebuilding project. It will include the construction of a 177-slip marina (with about half of the slips covered), the creation of a restaurant/regional hospitality center, and the renovation of the adjacent Riverview Park.

The cost for the project will be $11 million, which a city of 10,000 people could not afford on its own. So Mohrfeld has led efforts to find the grants and donations required to make the plan a reality. The city has received enough funding to begin the first phase of a multi-year, multiphase project.

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Phase one, which began in late fall, used the funds the city received from FEMA after the 2019 flooding. “We tore out the old jetty wall, installed a new one and extended it,” said Mohrfeld. The longer jetty will give the marina enough room for more slips. The basin will also be deeper; dredging to remove silt began early in December. A new wall along the riverbank features concrete that is manufactured to look like rocks, but is stronger and more stable than a rock wall would be. DeLong Construction of Washington, Iowa, is handling this work.

In addition, Fort Madison has ordered three floating docks, one covered, from MariCorp US. Installation of the docks should begin this spring, and be completed by early summer. Although the slips will not include lifts, they are being configured so that long-term slip renters can add them if they desire. Slips will be available both for yearly rentals and for transient boaters, and will offer electric, water, and WiFi. (The city has kept some of the old docks on hand to ensure that it can at least have courtesy docks available if anything does delay the installation of the new docks.)

A non-profit group has been set up to lease the marina from the city and operate it. One of the provisions of this agreement is that the group will safeguard sufficient funds for maintenance work such as dredging, dock repair, and replacement. “We want this project looking as good in 50 years as it will at the end of this project,” said Mohrfeld.

The marina operating group will also maintain some of the common areas in the adjacent Riverview Park, and will have access to the space at the park for special events.

A private group is investing $3 million in a new restaurant/hospitality center at the marina. To ensure that floods from the Mississippi River won’t destroy the new building, its parking lot and surrounding roads, the project contractor has built up the area to raise it above the floodplain. When it is completed, the hospitality center will serve the entire Lee County region with a small meeting room that the public can rent for meetings and small parties plus a convenience store for boaters. Construction on the building should start in March 2022.

The Fort Madison City Council has committed $1.5 million to the project. Other partners in the marina renovation include the GRHS-FMCH Community Health Foundation, which is providing $1.5 million for the expansion of the city’s trail system along the new jetty wall. The Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission will invest $1.5 million in the program over the next five years, and the Lee County Board of Supervisors is also investing in it. The Enhance Iowa Board recently awarded a $400,000 community action and tourism grant to the city for the project. The city will continue to seek additional funding to complete the plans for the marina over the next several years.