Fareway recommits to $2 million Boone rec center pledge, though path forward remains uncertain
Fareway remains committed to a $2 million donation for the construction of a Boone recreation center, the grocery store chain's CEO said.
Fareway Stores CEO Reynolds Cramer announced in February the pledge of $2 million toward the Boone Recreation & Wellness Center — the largest donation in the company’s history.
Despite the failure of the $10 million bond referendum necessary to fund the project earlier this month, Cramer said Fareway still plans to follow through with the donation — though Boone leaders are still unsure how they will move forward.
“We still have the same commitment to this community — to help it grow. Helping the downtown area of Boone grow is a way to be a catalyst to help other businesses grow,” Cramer told the Ames Tribune.
The wellness center was planned for 628 Story St., a downtown Boone location that leaders hoped would reinvigorate the area by drawing people in. The location, which is now shovel-ready, was the longtime location of a Fareway store.
The way to get more services, restaurants and businesses in downtown Boone is "by putting together things that families want to be involved in,” Cramer said.
He believes the concept for a recreation center will be completed, but the question is how it will get done. Councilmember Terry Moorman, who was one of the leaders on the project, said it is still unclear what the path forward will be after a heated special election.
"There was a lot of passion on both sides," Moorman said. "We thought we'd let it cool down."
The bond referendum ended with "no" votes outnumbering those in favor by 150, though the bond issue needed a 60% approval to pass. If passed, residents would have seen a 2% increase to their electric bill, leading to swift division on the project.
Those in favor saw the benefits the wellness center could bring to the community.
The concept included a pool, an elevated track and a gymnasium for a variety of recreation, such as pickleball, volleyball and basketball — amenities lost after the 2019 closure of the Boone YMCA.
But Moorman suspected when speaking to the Tribune after the election that uncertainty and rising prices caused by global events made this the wrong time for the people of Boone to sign onto more expenses, and leaders were sent back to the drawing board.
The bond vote also came just a year after the passage of a $23 million bond to build a new elementary school and other school improvements.
Cramer suspects funding of the project would still need assistance from the people of Boone.
“But in return, if we have more homes being sold, more people investing in downtown, more restaurants opening, creating more jobs — all of that helps take care of whatever small increase there is on a bill,” Cramer said.
Moorman has some meetings on the project this week, he said, but is mostly awaiting for direction from Boone Mayor John Slight.
"We'll pursue whatever he feels is right," Moorman said.
For now, he said it is nice to know Fareway has once again voiced a commitment to their donation. When Cramer announced the donation in February, he said: "Don’t give Fareway the money back."
“I still want to push that message. We still want to commit $2 million to help this project happen,” Cramer said. “I think there’s a way to get it done. … We’ll figure out a way, and I’m sure that one day, we’ll be down there helping cut a ribbon to get it done.”