MARION — Uptown Marion is in its “awkward teenage years,” director Brooke Prouty likes to say.
As the sole employee of the Uptown Marion district, Prouty is responsible for shepherding the district through the growing pains of business turnover and building renovations and into a mature main street with stable businesses.
Prouty said no two days are the same — Monday morning’s efforts focused on ordering a giant pair of scissors for ribbon-cuttings — but for the most part her role focuses on economic development. Grant writing, retail shopping events and programming such as tours all fall under her purview.
Prouty, who has been in her position for about two and a half years, previously served in Main Street Iowa organizations and Chambers of Commerce in areas such as Ames and Des Moines.
Marion’s Uptown was designated as a Main Street Iowa district in 2013. The designation aims to help boost an area’s economic development while preserving its history.
“I like to say that we’re kind of in our awkward teenage years,” Prouty said of the Uptown Marion district, which is a subsidiary of the Marion Chamber of Commerce. “You have main streets that are vacant and have no businesses that are viable in them. But then you have really awesome main streets ... where it’s a destination and they have really awesome businesses. So when we look at that spectrum, I like to say we’re kind of in the middle. We’re on the rise.”
Uptown Marion is in the midst of change. Businesses such as hobby and antique shops are closing as the market shifts away from retail and more toward bars and restaurants. Short’s Burger and Shine is on its way to Uptown at 780 11th St., and the former Louie’s Scoreboard at 740 10th St. is being remodeled into a new restaurant.
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Prouty said she’s also noticing businesses that can provide something unique to visitors — such as the locally sourced flowers at Roots and Bloom, 524 10th St.
“It’s all about the experience. And so our job is really important to bring people to a district and give them that feel. And that’s never going to be taken away by online retailers, to go to a district and be able to go to a bunch of different shops and experience the food and the entertainment and the culture and the art,” Prouty said.
Prouty said she thinks Uptown Marion has gotten to the point where visitors can spend a whole day in the district — from a coffee shop in the morning to dinner and a show at night. It takes a lot of Main Street districts quite a while to get there, she noted.
One of the activities for visitors that Prouty is developing is a virtual reality walking tour so someone would be able to check out Google Glasses from the Marion Public Library to see historic photos superimposed on the current Uptown.
To help support those businesses and particularly the night life, Prouty said she hopes to develop more housing, particularly on the upper stories of existing buildings. She envisions those spaces being turned into urban living and Airbnb rentals.
Also in her long-term plans, she hopes to add more businesses in areas prime for redevelopment and more businesses that can be in Marion for the long run, particularly restaurants that aren’t pizza shops, which already pepper Uptown.
For the next week, Prouty’s job will focus on the Eat. Drink. & Be Marion: Pub Crawl fundraiser planned for July 11 to benefit revitalization of Uptown. Tickets can be purchased here.
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