Quite a few absent at business district meeting

CHUCK VANDENBERG

With the Fort Madison Riverfront Business District dropping its partnership with Main Street Iowa, it’s clear that some healing needs to be done downtown.

The RBD dropped the Main Street flag officially in December, but made the announcement about 10 days ago. As part of the announcement, the group indicated it was going to hold a stakeholders’ meeting this past Thursday.

Only about eight businesses were represented at the meeting including the Fox Theater, Dodd Printing and Stationery, Lee County Title and Abstract, Stage 2, Old Fort Players, Connection Bank, Faeth’s Cigar Shop, and 10th Street Station, in addition to a few interested community members, and City Councilman Bob Morawitz.

Also in attendance were staff of Fort Madison Partners, who will be assisting the district in day-to-day efforts until the district decides if they will be hiring a part-time or full-time coordinator.

Stephanie Knoch led the discussion and said this was the time to rebrand the district and re-evaluate goals. But she said it’s kind of a call-to-arms to help get the district headed in the right direction.

Chris Sved, who managers the Fox Theater and also has his own gourmet coffee business, said meetings were important in determining the direction of the district, but what was more important was action.

He said district property owners need to work together to get things going in the district.

Part of that action is going to have to be the invested stakeholders setting aside time to join efforts at setting an agenda for the district.

Sved also said there is growth taking place in the district. That’s apparent with the upper apartment development by Barker Financial out of Iowa City, the 7th Street Marketplace housing three businesses, Joe Lestina’s popular Olive Branch Jiu Jitsu, and many other new storefronts being occupied. There’s rumor of additional retail and other entities looking at storefronts, which lends additional credibility to a resurgence downtown.

Former councilman Brian Wright attended and said he’d like to see the downtown become the focal point of Fort Madison like it was when he was growing up here.

That’s a tough ambition, but a worthy one. In a world of cellphones and home entertainment that doesn’t require a bag of quarters, it’s going to be difficult, but not impossible to re-invent that wheel.

We would say the community that solves that problem, positions itself better than most, but it’s going to take more than kids to get it done. Townspeople coming back down for shopping and entertainment has to be part of the picture, but so does a comprehensive look at the business district and its relationship to tourism.

The controversial Amtrak Depot relocation and the status with Viking Cruises could be back in front of the council with solid agreements in February. A comprehensive approach to those efforts and rebooting the business district probably is in order.

Mayor Brad Randolph said the city, including the district, will have to put their best foot forward and be ready for close to 300 passengers to off-board cruise ships several times a week, not to mention what potential impact the railroad depot could have to downtown traffic.

It’s not a guess to assume that if Fort Madison downtown could somehow become a destination district, those riverfront improvements could have even more value.

Starting in April, construction on new sidewalks and curbing, as well as stormwater drainage mechanisms, will in all likelihood be installed in at least three of the four blocks of Avenue G downtown. Only $1.55 million from interest paid on the city’s waste water treatment plant can be allocated to the project, so engineers are thinking that a three-block span from 6th to 9th streets or 7th to 10th streets can be done with the available funds.

Lots of people are screaming the money could be put to better use. Well, not really, because the funds are only available if the project goes toward storm water stewardship, so it does pigeon hole the city a little under the program. The stormwater drainage mechanisms are what is making it possible to redo the sidewalks and curbs, which are in dire need of attention. Permeable pavers along a 6-foot path allow storm water to drain through the sidewalk into catches below the surface.  The key is that all curbs and sidewalks have to be removed to install the storm water baffles, so they all get replaced.

It’s a start to something a bit more special downtown, and with the business district looking for any and all input, it would make sense on the surface anyway, that this could be a good time to start the transformation to making downtown a thriving business sector again.

About Chuck Vandenberg 3973 Articles
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