SOLON — Main Street is bookended by two new buildings, anchors for Solon’s efforts to grow its downtown in recent years.
The new buildings, one a mixed-use development on the west side and the other rental condos on the east, are the newest additions to Main Street. The city is also working on implementing recommendations of a downtown study to better steward the growth.
“It’s really active. There’s never a time where there’s not a buzz going on,” said Cami Rasmussen, city administrator. “There’s just always people around, and it’s beautiful in the spring and summer and fall.”
The building to the west, 121 on Main, is home to five businesses on the lower level and eight residential units upstairs. New tenants include Good Vibes Cafe, a coffee shop started by two native Solon sisters, and Amy Becker Photography, a second location to its sister studio in Mount Pleasant.
Becker, a Lisbon resident, said she likes the new building and modern feel downtown Solon has now, as well as the foot traffic. Her studio opened in April.
“Part of it is the location is amazing,” Becker said. “I just have really liked the people here, and we come here a lot to eat.”
A major jump-start for development came with the opening of Big Grove Brewery and a 2012 streetscape improvement project.
In the middle of Main Street, the Solon Economist moved to a new newsroom, and work started in the fall to convert the former Solon Station into a new restaurant, complete with an alleyway recreation area.
Rasmussen said she hoped that work would be finished by the time the city hosts part of the Big Rove bike ride on June 29, a 36-mile ride from Iowa City to North Liberty to Solon and back that’s part of the RAGBRAI “training series,” ahead of the annual ride across Iowa in July. Officials are expecting about 2,000 riders that day.
“I do hear a lot of positive comments from other communities saying how much they enjoy coming to Solon. They enjoy the vibrant feel Solon has,” Rasmussen said. “When I hear those things, that tells me we are kind of unique and this isn’t necessarily happening in a lot of other communities.”
Downtown vision plan
Additional improvements around the area are coming thanks to a 2017 public survey and Downtown Vision Plan. The document outlines a number of actions the city could take, such as forming a Main Street committee and adopting design standards that are specific to downtown areas.
Rasmussen said those requirements currently are more geared toward new builds on empty lots and require plenty of green space, which isn’t practical for Main Street businesses.
“There’s a lot of requirements to make sure it’s just not all concrete building,” Rasmussen said. “Well, when you’re working with a Main Street, where every building touches and that’s just the way it was built, you obviously don’t have that ability to have open space and trees and shrubs in the same manner.”
The plan also recommends reviving the Solon Economic Development Group, which Rasmussen hopes will be underway by spring, and an expansion of the Main Street and tax increment financing districts to areas adjacent to Main Street.
City officials are also looking into the possibility of establishing a bed-and-breakfast district and a hotel/motel tax.
Community center update
Just two blocks south of downtown, the city opened a community center in the former Solon Middle School, which first opened in 1917. The school district moved its students out in May 2017 and leased parts of the facility to the city for $1.
Rasmussen said the city expanded from its single recreation staff member to a recreation department, which includes a recreation director, a recreation assistant, an administrative assistant and site attendants. The city also developed a recreation advisory board, which allows people outside the city but still in the school district to join.
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More information on the community center can be found on the city’s website, solon-iowa.com.
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