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Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly is an unapologetic champion of the city’s attributes and growth, and his enthusiasm for the city he leads was on full display March 8 during the annual Marion State of the City presentation. The luncheon event, sponsored by the Linn County League of Women Voters, was held at the Cedar Rapids Marriott Bonvoy. Mr. AbouAssaly, who was introduced for his annual Marion State of the City address by his teenage son Andrew, reminded about 500 attendees that he’s been challenging the city to go beyond its brand as “the best place in Iowa to raise a family and grow a business” since taking office eight years ago. “The road hasn’t been easy,” Mr. AbouAssaly said. “But despite many obstacles, despite the naysayers and doubters, and despite the pressure to accept what others think is just good enough for Marion, we’ve focused on seeking excellence, dreaming bigger and pursuing a greater vision of what our town can and should be. And after years of dreaming, promoting and guiding the vision, I’m grateful to be here at this moment in history, seeing the vision materialize.” Mr. AbouAssaly outlined the city’s progress in a number of key areas: Community development: The city’s streetscape project was completed in the fall of 2022, capping nearly two years of construction and more than a decade of planning. The project includes a revamped Seventh Avenue and the reimagined North Plaza area, improving walkability and accommodation of public events. Despite expectations, Mr. AbouAssaly said the city retained all businesses in the area during construction. Access and opportunity: Mr. AbouAssaly described the new Marion Public Library, which opened in the fall, as a “prototype” for new libraries, featuring such new amenities as a demonstration kitchen, a 3D printer, a recording studio, a maker space and artist studio. The campaign for the new library also included funding for a new mobile library, expected to bring technology and library services into neighborhoods and senior living facilities. Recreation: The city’s new pedestrian bridge across Seventh Avenue was completed last summer, and a new two-mile stretch of side paths along Highway 151 was named Iowa’s best recreational trails project of 2022. A ribbon-cutting is set this spring for the recently-completed Indian Creek trail, and the city is moving forward on a long-term master plan for Lowe Park, improvements at Hanna Park, the build-out of Prairie Hill Park, progress toward a new aquatic center and the recent adoption of a new Indian Creek master plan. This year, the city will move ahead with the redevelopment of the Central Plaza and City Square Park, boosted by a $3 million Destination Iowa grant. Mr. AbouAssaly also announced the launch of a Central Plaza capital campaign to fund the remainder of the $6.6 million project, with various sponsorship opportunities available. Historic preservation: Mr. AbouAssaly highlighted the successful effort to preserve the city’s historic Marion United Methodist Church building, a “community jewel” which was saved from the wrecking ball through a concerted campaign that led to the property’s purchase. Conlon Construction plans to restore and redevelop the property. Historic preservation has now been adopted as one of the city’s strategic goals, and development of a new linear park along the former Milwaukee Road right-of-way, celebrating the city’s railroad legacy and featuring a caboose relocated from City Square, will be another step toward that goal, Mr. AbouAssaly said. “In a town like Marion – the oldest existing town in Linn County and older than our state – we should celebrate our rich history and honor our historic buildings,” Mr. AbouAssaly said. “Personally, I wanted to prove that historic buildings can be saved and progress doesn’t have to be at their expense. They can play a role in a bright future. They can add value and even drive economic development, and they’re worth the effort.” Economic development: More than 30 commercial projects are currently under construction in Marion, and the Chamber of Commerce and MEDCO hosted 36 groundbreakings and ribbon-cutting events. Both UnityPoint-St. Luke’s and Mercy Medical Center announced plans for new emergency medical facilities in Marion last year. And the city’s Business Innovation and Support grant program, funded with $400,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, distributed awards to 31 Marion businesses in 2022. Tourism: The Prospect Meadows Sports Complex hosted 958 travel teams from 19 states and generated 127,000 visits last year, infusing an estimated $11.1 million into the local economy and totaling more than 24,000 room nights at area hotels. Housing: Responding to a city analysis last year that showed a need for more than 2,700 new housing units and nearly 700 age-restricted and service-enriched units by 2030, developers are undertaking nine new subdivisions, and three more projects have received a combined $7.5 million in derecho-related Community Development Block Grant housing grants. Mr. AbouAssaly also highlighted the city’s progress toward greater diversity and inclusivity, government efficiency and community celebration. Yet, much more remains to be achieved throughout the community, Mr. AbouAssaly added. “It would be easy to become content and rest on our accomplishments,” he said. “But the reality is that good enough never is (good enough). Continued progress is our destiny, and indeed our only option, if we’re serious about our mission. We have taken this city from a place of limited opportunity to a place of boundless potential. Let’s not squander that potential. Now is our chance to be bold and visionary.”