Monday, March 30, 2009

Funds sought for Willoway

Sutherland's dream is coming true.

Albeit, one step at a time.

After Cornerstone Senior Communities of Remsen, a nonprofit corporation that owns and operates residential and health-care facilities for seniors, finalized its purchase of the Willoway Complex in November of 2008, the board of directors began considering plans to improve and expand services in the building that will benefit the entire Sutherland area.

Although Cornerstone still is seeking funding to remodel the second floor of the Willoway Complex into more apartments, the fitness center currently situated on the second floor will need to be moved. So, the community is remaining one step ahead by making sure the second floor is clear before funding comes in.

The fitness center is not moving too far, though.

It soon will make its home on the lower level of the complex, where Wurth Chiropractic once held its offices.

Securing funds
Just as Cornerstone needs to secure funding for the remodel of the second floor of the Willoway Complex, the same needed to be done for the transfer and addition of new equipment for the fitness center. So, Cornerstone applied for and received a Revolving Loan Fund equipment loan through the O'Brien County Economic Development Corporation.

Through the years, the RLF loans, which are designed for new businesses or existing businesses in the county wishing to expand, have been funded by a $50,000-a-year contribution by the O'Brien County Board of Supervisors.

"Typically, the original loan requests were for $10,000-$15,000, but it's gotten to a point where they are larger now, around $100,000," said Kiana Johnson, director of the O'Brien County Economic Development Corporation. "What we'll do, is finance one-third of the total project cost, not to exceed $100,000."

The RLF fund was exhausted in 2005 and the OCEDC no longer had money to loan out to businesses, so the corporation applied for a $500,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was awarded the funds in 2006.

"This loan with Cornerstone exhausts the remaining $500,000 we had to lend out, so in the meantime, the original RLF fund the board of supervisors have funded yearly has now revolved back into an excess of $200,000, which sounds like quite a bit of money, but when you look at $200,000, that's only two businesses that we can help at the moment," Johnson said. "Every community in O'Brien County has benefited from those RLF funds except for Calumet, as we have not had a business from Calumet apply."

For the community of Sutherland alone, the OCEDC has assisted with four new business startups: JTV Manufacturing Inc., Bogenrief Studios, Hale's Guitars and 2 Brothers Mechanical.

"This program has been very successful," said Mark Cody, Cornerstone board chairman and Sutherland Economic Development director. "It's helped out a lot. Even the money the county supervisors began with has all been lent out, and now is being returned back in."

And, with the current national economic crisis, Johnson has been working to stress the importance of the RLF program to the board of supervisors.

"I know every department has looked at budget cuts, and we really don't want to cut capital investments, especially in a time when the economy is bad," she said. "The return on our dollar has been a great impact for the county as a whole, ad we really appreciate that the supervisors have funded that and continue funding that because it is really important."

Getting ready
In preparation of its April opening, Willoway Complex manager Jim Streufert has been revamping the new lower level location, which is situated next to the indoor swimming pool.

Five New Live Fitness cardiovascular machines and six street machines will grace the new fitness center.

"The only things from the original fitness center that are going to come down here are the dumb bells and bar bells," Cody said.

Baum Harmon Mercy Hospital is helping Streufert set up the fitness center, so the machines are each situated properly, said Cody.

"We haven't quite decided what we're doing with the old equipment upstairs," Cody said. "Some of it could possibly be for sale, because mainly just the free weights are coming downstairs."

The rubber floor from the current fitness center also will make the trek downstairs, Streufert said.

The facility is slated to open during the first part of April if the new equipment arrives at the complex.

"I think it's feasible if the equipment comes timely," Streufert said. "If we don't open during the first part of April, we'll be open by the middle for sure."

This article appeared in the March 28, 2009 edition of The South O'Brien Sun.

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