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'Gentleman's agreement' 9 years ago in Sidney causes friction between city and fire department

Should it be a new firehouse or recreation space with playground and pickleball? A $1.7 million grant is at stake
Posted at 10:56 AM, May 27, 2024

SIDNEY, Iowa (KMTV) — Sidney is a finalist for a development grant worth $1.7 million. It would allow the city to revitalize a lower-income section of town and add recreation spaces. One proposed recreation space near the square is getting pushback from the fire department because, say firefighters, the lot was sold to the city with the intention it would be used for a new fire station.

  • “A handshake and your word is what counts,” said Russ Loewe. He was on the council of the Methodist church in 2015 when it sold its property to the city. He says the handshake deal was for new firehouse to be built on the lot.
  • “$1.7 million into a community of a thousand people is a big deal,” said the mayor, Justin Shirley, of a development grant that would allow the city to build a playground and pickleball court on the property, as well as revitalize a section of the town.
  • “I really hope that they get the grant because what it will do for the section of the city,” said Fire Chief Dustin Sheldon. “If the entertainment section needs to be done, it just does not need to be done over there because it leads us right back to square one.”

BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:

No one disputes a handshake deal nine years ago was intended to give this lot to the Sidney Fire Department.

I’m your Southwest Iowa neighborhood reporter Katrina Markel.

I’m in Sidney to find out why the city now wants to use the lot for a park. And why fire department members say a promise has been broken.

“A handshake and your word is what counts,” said Russ Loewe.

He was on the council of the Methodist church in 2015 when it sold its property to the city.

Sidney Fire Chief Dustin Sheldon, says there was a "gentleman's agreement" to use this land for a new fire station.

"We gave our word to the church. I shook Russ's hand when we made the deal," he said.

“There’s just a lot of heartburn around the lot,” the new Sidney Mayor Justin Shirley said.

He understands the concerns, but there are new people in city government, and they have a different vision for the space, including a playground and pickleball court.

It would come with a $1.7 million grant to revitalize that section of town.

“The reality of things is, we’re almost ten years later, nothing’s happened. We have looked into grants for fire stations and there’s not a whole lot of money out there,” Shirley said.

The grant would improve sidewalks, add a walking trail, and clean up derelict properties. The empty lot would become a sensory playground, a pickleball and basketball court.

“$1.7 million into a community of a thousand people is a big deal,” said the mayor.

“I really hope that they get the grant because what it will do for the section of the city,” said Sheldon. “If the entertainment section needs to be done, it just does not need to be done over there because it leads us right back to square one.”

There is a city-owned building next to the fire station, set to be demolished.

“That would be something I think the city would be interested in just donating to our fire department as an opportunity for future expansion,” the mayor said.

The firefighters are skeptical that the alternative property would meet their needs, but they think the recreation space could go elsewhere.

“There’s other locations that they could make work if they wanted to, they just have to do a little bit more work,” said Sheldon.

The hitch: there’s money for the park plan right now, and not for the fire department.

Shirley says he can see that the fire department needs more space and wants to help them find the funding to build elsewhere.

“Hopefully, over time, things will heal and we’re able to meet both needs,” said the mayor.

In Sidney Iowa, I’m your Southwest Iowa neighborhood reporter, Katrina Markel