Q&A with Matt Walsh: Mayor of Council Bluffs

What do you wish everyone knew about Council Bluffs?
Council Bluffs is ‘Unlike Anywhere Else on Purpose.’ We are intentionally different. Maybe you think we’re a little quirky, but we are who we are, no apologies. It’s simply a great place to live and just be yourself.

What makes CB a great place to live?
Council Bluffs is a friendly community with a small-town atmosphere, but our residents have easy access to those big city amenities that can make life interesting.

What makes CB a great place to do business?
Customer loyalty — not to mention recent state income tax revisions that now allow business owners to hold onto more of their hard-earned profits.

If you could describe Council Bluffs in two words, what would they be?
My hometown.

What’s your favorite CB fun fact or trivia tidbit?
During our country’s nineteenth-century western migration and the gold rush that followed, Council Bluffs was the jumping-off point between eastern civilization and the wild west. It is a city rich with history. For example, at one point the Omaha-Council Bluffs Streetcar Company operated the second largest streetcar system in the entire country when only Boston had more miles of streetcar track.

My favorite Council Bluffs story is that its city hall was constructed as WPA (Works Progress Administration) project in the late 1930s. The city found itself struggling to make the associated mortgage payment. Someone suggested reaching out to New Yorker Meyer Lansky for financial help. For those that don’t know, Meyer Lansky and Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano were the architects of the modern-day American Mafia. Lansky financed Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegal, an American mobster who was a driving force behind the development of the Las Vegas Strip.

Lansky agreed to help the city financially if it would agree to let him operate a dog track along the Missouri riverfront. Para-mutual gambling was illegal in Iowa so Lansky devised a betting system where gamblers bought an ownership interest in the dog they fancied. If their dog either won, placed, or showed, then Lansky would repurchase that dog’s ownership by paying a premium price that mirrored a winning para-mutual bet. Within three years all debt associated with City Hall was paid in full and the dog track closed down. When the city developed Hanafan Park on the Riverfront, near where the old dog track was operated, I donated money in Lansky’s name, which can now be found on the gold donor recognition plaque.


- Advertisement -

When did your family become part of the CB community?
My great grandfather, J.F Wilcox owned and operated a large greenhouse in Council Bluffs beginning back in 1885. J.F Wilcox Sr. died in 1912 leaving his wife and five sons to run the business as J.F Wilcox and Sons. Their greenhouse specialties were poinsettias, roses, Easter lilies, mums, daffodils and geraniums. While the flowers were grown in Council Bluffs, they were shipped to market throughout the Midwest from downtown Omaha in the old ‘Jobbers Canyon’ warehouse district, today known as the Old Market. You can still see their business name painted on the exterior wall on the second floor of Blue Sushi Sake Grill. In the late 1960s Dwight Eisenhower’s plan to build a national interstate system came to fruition making it more economical to grow flowers in warmer climates like Texas and California and then truck them to market via the new interstate; rather than heat a hundred acres of glass greenhouses. Subsequently, due to progress in our nation’s transportation system, J.F Wilcox and Sons could no longer effectively compete within the cut flower market and they were forced to close their business.

What do you want people to know you for/remember you for?
I’m a businessman whose background includes having worked 30 years as a banker, most of those years as a commercial lender. Over the last nine years, I’ve brought my professional expertise to the day-to-day management of the Council Bluffs city government. Like any business, we deal with various operational challenges on a daily basis, but we are a city that is in sound financial condition and I feel like we are positioned where we need to be in order to participate successfully in the exciting future growth that awaits our entire metropolitan area.

What achievements as mayor are you most proud of?
Both Council Bluffs and Omaha were experiencing tough economic times from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s. Our downtowns were getting run down and really looking tired. But over the last 20 years, we’ve enjoyed a renaissance and that community rebirth has manifested itself in a variety of cultural opportunities, great restaurants, and recreational experiences. This is my 27th year in elected office in Council Bluffs (18 years on City Council and nine more as mayor). It’s been rewarding to have played a role in that metamorphosis and I am excited about our collective future.

Best place/places to explore in CB during the weekend.
I think many people already know about our historic ‘100 Block’ with its nightlife and restaurants. I don’t think people are as familiar with the PACE building (Pottawattamie Arts, Culture, and Entertainment). PACE is the home to the American Midwest Ballet, the Kanesville Symphony Orchestra and the Chanticleer Community Theater. There are several artists in residence, and they also house a food entrepreneur program of approximately 20 individuals who are in process of defining their niche in the local food industry. They have a wonderful bar that regularly gets catered by the food entrepreneurs of Kitchen Council. Every fourth Friday they feature live musical entertainment; and the opportunity to check out new works in the fourth-floor gallery. This venue opened just two weeks prior to the onset of the pandemic and two weeks later it was forced to go dark for a couple of years. Now it’s back and it’s certainly finding its own place among Council Bluffs’ entertainment opportunities.

What do you like to do during your free time? 
There actually is a very limited amount of free time in my world. It’s an exciting job that results in much personal satisfaction for me, but in order to adequately perform the job, I’m always on the run from early in the morning until evening. I enjoy it but I fully understand that most others would hate this lifestyle and it certainly can be tough on the family. When my current term of office is over it will have been 30 years in elected office and it’s time for some fresh ideas. Then I likely have to find a hobby that I enjoy. 

What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Be respectful, be honest and be yourself.