Fareway pledges $2 million to Boone rec center, largest donation in company history

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Reynolds Cramer, president and CEO of Fareway Stores, spoke recently about the company's $2 million pledge to help build the Boone Recreation and Wellness Center. On Tuesday, voters said no the $10 million bond issue.

Reynolds Cramer, the CEO of Fareway Stores, announced a $2 million pledge Thursday to the Boone Recreation & Wellness Center. The pledge came with a request: Please vote yes.

The donation is an investment in Fareway’s hometown of Boone and the place were Cramer first started working for Fareway as a high school kid in the 1980s.

Before work can start on the new recreation facility, Boone voters have to approve a $10 million bond (the total cost of the project) on March 1. If the vote passes, the target date for the opening of the rec center is December 2024.

“This is a have-to-happen project,” Cramer said of the rec center. “So on March 1, the vote has to go through. We can’t, in this community, let this thing go by. Don’t give Fareway the money back. Let’s use the money for something amazing.”

The $2 million pledge is the biggest one Fareway Stores has ever done as a corporation, he said.

Along with grocery stores, Fareway has a warehouse in Boone and employs approximately 700 people in Boone County. It has more than 14,000 employees in seven states.

Reynolds Cramer, president and CEO of Fareway Stores, Steven Ray, Boone mayor pro-tem, Nate Nerem, Boone County Economic Development, and Terry Moorman, Boone City Council member, hold a $2 million check to help build a Recreation and Wellness Center in Boone during an event at the Cobblestone Inn in Boone, Iowa, on Feb. 10, 2022.

“Boone is where we’ve been for soon-to-be 84 years. The goal is to get to 100 and beyond,” Cramer said.

Dan Culhane described the pledge as a momentous occasion for the Boone community.

“We’re super proud to work on behalf of the city of Boone and the Boone Economic Growth Corporation as a partner from Ames,” said Culhane, president and CEO of the Ames Economic Development Commission, who emceed Thursday’s event. “This is a great day for the region, and specifically a great day for Boone.”

Steven Ray, Boone’s mayor pro-tempore, said Fareway’s pledge gives momentum to the project as it heads toward the March 1 vote.

“I think a lot of people in Boone are looking forward to this,” Ray said of the project. “They want it. We need it. It will help our downtown. It will be a great lift for downtown – there’s just no doubt about it.”

Fifteen months ago, the Boone City Council set the goal to buy the property and tear down the building in preparation for a wellness center.

“Here we are 15 months later. It’s level. It’s shovel-ready,” Ray said. “That’s quite a haul in 15 months.”

The project, which is planned for 628 Story St., would be on the site of a former Fareway store.

‘Great communities’ spark economic development, job creation

“We talk a lot about economic development, and we talk a lot about job creation in all of our communities. The foundation of that is great communities,” Culhane said.

Nate Nerem, the chair of the Boone County Economic Growth Corporation, said the rec center will be a linchpin for the growth of the community.

“People will come for basketball tournaments; people will come for volleyball tournaments. They’ll see how great Boone is and hopefully they’ll decide this is a good place to stick around,” Nerem said.

That’s what economic growth is all about, he said: Retaining current residents and encouraging new ones.

“I was in awe when I heard what was going to happen. I’m not usually at a loss for words, but I was when I heard about the $2 million,” said Terry Moorman, Boone City Council member and chairman of the Economic Development Committee.

Boone Recreation and Wellness Center design renderings are displayed during the Thursday announcement of a $2 million pledge to the project by Fareway Stores.

He said the rec center would be a flagship for Boone’s downtown, spurring economic growth and development. The center will fill the void left by the closing of the local YMCA in 2019, he said.

The facility will house two full-size gymnasiums, which can be converted into six pickleball courts or four volleyball courts, Moorman said. It will offer a lap pool, wading pool and hot tub.

“In addition, there will be an elevated walking and running track, a cardio area, a nautilus and weight conditioning area,” Moorman said. “And of course, there will be a social gathering area for our seniors and our kids to meet and come together.”

Population in the city of Boone is currently declining at a rate of about 0.6% per year, and community officials point to quality of life assets like the rec center as projects to help reverse this trend. A goal of a population increase to 13,000 by 2030, a 4.5% increase over 2020, would be a realistic target, according to a report prepared by the Ames Economic Development Corporation.

Rec center would offer a place for healthier lifestyle, relationship building

“This project is much more than a building – it’s a place where children and families and adults and seniors can participate in activities and programs. … A place where you can build new relationships and strengthen old ones,” Moorman said.

It would be a place to work on having a healthier lifestyle, he said.

“And whether you’re 8 or 80, there’s going to be something there for you,” he said. “We can only get this done when we do it together.”

The $10 million project would offer 8,000 square feet of ground level retail space, which would provide an anticipated $72,000 in rental revenue, the AEDC report stated.

If the bond referendum is approved by voters, a 2% franchise fee will be added to Boone residents’ utility bills for both gas and electric. The average utility bill cost in Boone is approximately $220 per month, according to the city. The franchise fee on that amount would be $4.40 per month.

Election day is Tuesday, March 1, with polls open at the Boone County Fairgrounds from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Public meetings about the project will be held in the second-floor auditorium of City Hall, 923 Eighth St., at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 17, and Thursday, Feb. 24.

“We’re just one part of this project. Well, maybe we’re 2,000,000 parts,” Cramer said, getting laughs from the audience. “But it’s going to take everyone in this community to make this happen.”