Seeing progress on Mainstreet Iowa

Program claims some successes, advocates say

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The Main Street Iowa program was started 26 years ago with the intent of preserving and restoring Iowa’s downtowns — to identify potential market niches and to capitalize on each community’s identity.

The program, developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and run though the Iowa Department of Economic Development, now includes some 49 communities across the state. One of those communities, Central City Main Street, has seen success since being deemed a Main Street site in 2000, according to Julie Renberg, its program director.

“We have had 16 net gains in business starts, 20 new jobs, 46 buildings that have been rehabilitated and 17 buildings sold,” Renberg counted.

She added there has been $1,769,603 in private dollars invested in rehabilitation and $560,000 private dollars put into downtown property acquisition.

“The private investment versus the Main Street investment over the years has really added up.” Renberg said.

Supporters of Central City Main Street have also logged a total of 45,883 volunteer hours during the past 12 years.

In Cedar Rapids, the Czech Village-New Bohemia Main Street District is only a few years old — designated in 2009 — but has made some strides in the economic development and preservation. According to Jennifer Pruden, executive director, some 46 businesses have started, relocated or expanded in the district, creating 186 new jobs. More than 28 buildings have been rehabilitated, and 13,058 volunteer hours have been recorded.

“We’ve seen approximately $17.4 million invested in rehabilitation,” she added.

She noted that last statistic in particular has a larger impact.

And while numbers always are key to marking progress, organizers said that sometimes it’s the little changes that make all the difference.

“These findings support the growing trend of our population’s desire to seek a sense of place or what has been coined their ‘third place’ — the place they can go to outside of their home or work where they can connect with the community and have fun,” Pruden said. “Traditional downtown districts are the perfect place to meet a friend for coffee, hang out in a neighborhood park, stroll along the beautified streetscapes and shop locally owned small businesses.”

“This past Christmas is a fine example of how Central City has been impacted and changed since becoming a Main Street Community,” said Renberg, adding an example. “It used to be completely dark in our downtown at Christmas, but this year almost every window on Main Street was decorated and lit up for the holiday season.”

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