Brainstorming session aims for WB’s highs, lows by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · August 23, 2013
By the end of the three-hour Aug. 14 session, poster-sized sticky notes lined three walls in the basement of Community State Bank, each filled with ideas, suggestions, observations, and perceived strengths and weaknesses of and for both the city and Main Street West Branch.
Nearly 30 city stakeholders — from residents to business owners to community leaders — moved from page to page, marking their top three for each question. Many paused to consider where they would place check marks.
“There’s so many on this that need to be done,” resident Claudia Wallick said while reviewing the ideas presented for economic development.
Facilitating the meeting for MSWB were Main Street Iowa State Coordinator Michael Wagler and Assistant State Coordinator Darlene Strachan, who presented the group with nine questions throughout the night and asked small groups to come up with their own lists.
The purpose is to help MSWB develop a strategic vision for the next five to 10 years.
“This is your downtown,” Strachan told the group. “Main Street has ideas, but we need the community’s ideas to help visualize your downtown three, five or 10 years from now.”
Wagler encouraged any idea.
“There’s no right or wrong answer,” he said. “The purpose is to help you move forward in your revitalization process.”
Everyone marking their top-tier ideas was the last chore for the group that night. MSWB Program Director Mackenzie Krob said the votes will be added up and compiled, then released as soon as possible.
“I thought the process was very good and I was pleased with the turnout,” she said.
Krob said she would have liked to have seen more participate.
“But for a small town, Main Street Iowa said they were really pleased with the mix we had there,” she said.
Some of the highlights:
• What are downtown’s assets?
Proximity to Hoover Complex and Interstate 80; its historic nature; Main Street West Branch; business diversity; cooperative spirit
• What are challenges faced by downtown?
Proximity to Iowa City and Coralville; making the city a “destination”; drawing tourists; local patronage of businesses; user-friendly infrastructure like bicycle racks; big truck traffic; financial support from the city. Also, lack of business cooperation for development; lack of stable businesses; resistance to change or growth; lack of green space; and lack of job opportunities.
• What are opportunities for downtown?
Integrated marketing to draw tourists; new and expanded retail; both tourist-centered and local-centered businesses; available space; more services for residents; family atmosphere.
• Why is downtown important to the community?
Hub and heart of community; variety of things to do; the services provided now are needed; a safe, friendly and easy-to-walk-around downtown attracts new families and residents; spurs economic growth; history and tradition; sense of place.
• What are design issues facing MSWB?
To make the back sides of downtown businesses attractive to Hoover Complex visitors; help businesses create more attractive window displays; balancing the mix of historic and modern; developing more way-finding signs that fit the downtown cityscape; improving sidewalks.
• What are economic development issues facing MSWB?
Encouraging property owners to better maintain buildings and grounds; team up with other nearby Main Street programs; “balancing” business from east to west; creating a cohesive business plan for the entire community; encourage more volunteerism; defining “what downtown is”; drawing more “everyday” shops like a general merchandise store and a pharmacy; create promotional materials for the city.