FD looks to better define the city’s center

Pursuit of Main Street Iowa designation is on the agenda

People often view a city’s downtown as an indicator of that community’s health, according to Dennis Plautz, chief executive officer of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.

“People look at a downtown to try and formulate in their mind how that community is doing,” Plautz said.

To that end, Fort Dodge is seeking to earn a designation as a Main Street Iowa community.

Business owners, city officials, members of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, and Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District met for an update regarding the Main Street Iowa program at First American Bank Wednesday.

Earning a Main Street Iowa designation would provide Fort Dodge with downtown planning, design and volunteer resources.

A Fort Dodge Main Street director would be appointed to focus solely on the needs of downtown, according to Maggie Carlin, associate city planner. The SSMID board would oversee that director.

“The idea with the Main Street director is to work on unifying more of the businesses downtown, so we can work on expanding it and offering more activities, programs and having things more coordinated,” said Cheryl O’Hern, SSMID board member.

The Main Street Iowa program would have a $123,066 budget in the first fiscal year of its existence. That money would come from the city government, SSMID and private donors.

Fort Dodge submitted its Main Street Iowa application May 18. On June 27, members of the community will present their case to the Main Street Iowa selection committee on why Fort Dodge should earn the designation.

Fort Dodge is one of three communities that will be presenting. Rockwell City and Clarence are the other two.

Carlin said every couple of years the state can designate as many as three communities as a Main Street Iowa city. More than 40 cities in Iowa are Main Street communities.

State officials are to announce their decision in July or August, Carlin said.

Fort Dodge would have the Main Street Iowa designation as long as it wants to fund it, she said.

Plautz, along with Steve Pederson, Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District Board president, agreed the time is right for Fort Dodge to address its downtown.

“The time is right, giving what else is going on in the downtown,” Plautz said. “It’s a logical fit chronologically with what’s going on with the Warden project, with the renewed interest in preserving the private infrastructure in the downtown. It’s more timely than when we were a Main Street city years ago.”

Pederson believes Fort Dodge is trending upward.

“It looks like the timing is right,” Pederson said. “When we left Main Street in the early 2000s, we were on a curve and it wasn’t this pretty curve that we have going on right now. It was a roller coaster ride and we were heading down.”

“Now everything is on the up swoop and it’s time to partner with the professionals again that Main Street offers for architecture, design and volunteerism.”

Plautz said Fort Dodge is in a much better position in terms of support than in years past.

“This community has much more collaboration going on than it ever has in the years I have been here,” Plautz said. “The Main Street program is a program of volunteerism and collaboration in groups. We have some things in place now that we didn’t have back in the 1980s when we had this designation before.”

Plautz hopes this designation will help Fort Dodge restore some of its historic buildings.

“It will provide a lot of technical assistance for the Main Street manager,” Plautz said. “It will also provide architectural services to help people in restoring these buildings to their original character.”

The buildings that exist in Fort Dodge are unique given the city’s size, Plautz said.

“You don’t see many communities with the size of private infrastructure, private buildings that we have in a community our size,” he said. “You won’t see buildings like this in Mason City or Clinton and other like-size cities that we can work with and make it a unique place.”

Addressing vacant buildings is an area that could be addressed.

According to Carlin, 17 buildings in downtown are totally vacant in the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District. The Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District is a roughly 33-block downtown area in which property owners pay an extra tax to finance improvements there.

Part of having the additional resources that Main Street Iowa offers is determining the best way to make Fort Dodge stand out, Plautz said.

“We don’t know exactly what the focus of Main Street will be,” Plautz said. “But that’s part of the Main Street program is to figure out what the uniqueness and the focus of Main Street should be. Rather than replicating something somebody else did. That’s not what this is about. It’s figuring out what Fort Dodge should have for its own unique image.”