Downtown Assessment

INTRODUCTION

The following report summarizes the observations and recommendations that are a result of an Iowa Downtown Resource Center Assessment Visit conducted in Montezuma, Iowa. In preparation of this report, the Team had to learn about Montezuma’s development history and plans for future development. The Assessment Team’s familiarization process began with a review of materials about Montezuma supplied prior to the visit, a driving tour of the city and a walking tour of the Downtown commercial district. The intensive two-day visit also included interviews with approximately 90 community leaders, individuals and groups representing the public and private sectors. Based upon these activities and the Assessment Team’s extensive working knowledge in downtown economic development, this report summarizes their findings and recommendations for Montezuma.

PURPOSE

The Montezuma Community Development Corporation contracted with the Iowa Downtown Resource Center, Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA), to conduct a Downtown Assessment Visit that included the following services:

“Coordinate, implement, and participate in a two-day assessment visit to the Downtown area of Montezuma Iowa on October 17-18, 2012. The assessment team will be comprised of two downtown development professionals. The assessment team will partake in a familiarization tour of the community, a Downtown walking tour, interviews with local community leaders, assess the current state of Downtown, and develop oral and written observations and recommendations.”

The Assessment Team included two downtown development professionals:

Thom Guzman, Director, Iowa Downtown Resource Center, Iowa Economic Development Authority, (IEDA), Des Moines, Iowa. Guzman has been with IEDA since January 1988. As director of the Iowa Downtown Resource Center, Guzman oversees all downtown development programs of the department, including its premier program, Main Street Iowa. Guzman was the Main Street program director for Downtown Grass Valley, California prior to joining IEDA. He has been a real estate broker, retail sales manager, non-profit association manager, Main Street program director, and Main Street state coordinator prior to becoming the director of the downtown resource center. His current responsibilities include managing a million dollar annual budget, overseeing the planning and delivery of technical assistance services, training, and assessments for Iowa’s 48 Main Street communities and for developing technical assistance and training opportunities for all Iowa communities. Guzman’s areas of expertise are in organizational development, promotion, and working with smaller communities with populations ranging from 400 to 82,000. He is a graduate of Leadership Iowa, is past vice-chair of the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs and past chair of the Authority’s Diversity Committee. Guzman currently sits on two of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s committees: Community Development Financial Institution and Loan Committee. He is a founding member of the National Main Street Coordinators Executive Committee. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Hayward. Over the years, Guzman has consulted for Main Street programs in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin. He has also presented at many national and international downtown conferences.

Tim Reinders, Design Specialist, Main Street Iowa, Iowa Downtown Resource Center, Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA), Des Moines, Iowa. In his role as Design Specialist, Tim provides technical assistance and training in all areas of design and preservation, storefront design drawings and general architectural and planning services to all 48 Main Street Iowa programs. Reinders has also done consulting with numerous other statewide Main Street programs including Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, Boston and Michigan. Prior to joining the Main Street Iowa team in 1989, Tim was the Main Street director in Clinton Iowa. He is a former board member and president of the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance (Preservation Iowa) and served on the state commission for land use, growth management of cities and preservation of farmland. He also sits on the National Main Street Coordinators Executive Committee and is part of the National Main Street Subsidiary transition team. Tim is also a member of the State Historical Society’s “Technical Advisory Network” and sits on a number of grant review panels for the Department of Cultural Affairs. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Iowa State University where he also did his Masters studies in Community and Regional Planning.

OVERVIEW

This Downtown Assessment Visit report and recommendations for Montezuma are based on the Team’s downtown development experience, totaling over 51 years. Their beliefs are grounded by the philosophy that in order for Downtown to re-establish itself as the social and commercial center of the community – the physical heart and soul of the city – Downtown must become more valuable physically, economically, socially and politically.

The dialog with the community begins with the community’s need to understand why Downtown is important.

1)  Downtown serves as the symbol (the visual testimony) of the community’s economic health. The commercial activity and vibrancy of Downtown is a reflection of the health and investment within the entire community.

2)  The viability of Downtown is important to both public and private sectors. Government officials and taxpayers have a vested interest in the health and viability of Downtown and the valuation of its commercial properties. Since the welfare of Downtown is both a public and private concern, it is in everyone’s best interest to form a partnership to address its vitality. Both sectors have resources and expertise to contribute to the revitalization process.

3)  The local quality of life (livability) is reflected through the condition of Downtown. Today, young workers will change their employment and careers multiple times, many of them basing those decisions solely upon where they prefer to live. Quality of life is a key factor in industrial, commercial and professional business and employee recruitment.

4)  Downtown reflects local pride and the values of the community. Much can be learned about your community and its values by exploring Downtown.

5)  Downtown is a functioning, living museum. It speaks volumes about how your community developed, how it has evolved and what influences have been instrumental in its development. Your Downtown is unique–with its own character and history (sense of place), that sets it apart from any other place.

The health of Downtown has a direct impact upon the entire community’s economic well being. They are inter-related. Downtown revitalization IS economic development. Downtown is a prime location for incubating small business, it is an affordable location for independent businesses, and is historically one of the community’s major employers. The commercial center provides a compact environment with multiple stories for commerce, government and living spaces, thus reducing sprawl and the cost associated in extending city services and infrastructure. The pedestrian friendly environment is convenient and accessible, serving as the center (community space) for not only commercial trade but also cultural, social and civic engagement. Historic Downtowns can serve as heritage tourism attractions. A building’s condition, the business’ viability and maximization of the building’s square footage for income generation affect not only the property’s value, but also the value of the neighboring properties and real estate in the entire community. Investments in Downtown allow it to “pay its fair share” in taxes resulting in lessening the tax burdens of its citizens and city government.

Montezuma does not look nor resemble what it was like 40 years ago. Downtown has also changed. Various factors have had dramatic effects upon the character of Downtown and its businesses’ viability.

External forces have affected Downtown’s competitiveness–big box retail, internet sales, catalog sales, proximity to larger towns and major metros, transportation and commuter trends to name a few. Citizens are more mobile and technologically connected. Increasing regional and even global competition directly affect the level of activity and commerce in Downtown. More women have entered the workforce. Women, the primary household purchasers, are making the majority of their purchases on Saturday, Sunday and in the evening. Different generations of consumers have different spending habits and expectations. The commercial business world has dramatically changed.

Internal forces at work include the investments or lack of investments that have occurred in Downtown buildings. Inappropriate façade changes over the years have lessened the historic integrity of Downtown properties and affected its overall appearance. Under-utilization of buildings also reduces income generation, which has a direct effect upon the amount of capital available for maintenance and reinvestment in the buildings and ultimately, the value of Downtown. Covered, boarded up and scaled down display windows create barriers between the businesses and the customers. In some cases, signage is lacking, poorly designed or obsolete. These physical changes combined with other external forces have substantially challenged the dynamics and vitality of Downtown. It is important to note that none of this occurred with malicious intent. Rather, building and business owners were seeking possible solutions to the ever-changing dynamics under which Downtown existed, not realizing that many of these solutions only contributed to Downtown’s decline.

As Downtown loses its physical and economic values, its social and political values suffer. The more varied the functions of Downtown, the more often people have reasons to come Downtown at different times of the day, thus adding more value to Downtown. Special events and festivals (promotions) that attract people Downtown for social, cultural, recreational and retail experiences increase citizens’ appreciation of the Downtown through positive associations and interactions. This association (sense of place) between the fond memories that promotions create and the built environment in which they occur, becomes a strong emotional connection. Participants will care about Downtown and feel they have a stake in its future. Because of the pleasant experiences, the participants are more apt to come back for business transactions at some future date.

Strategies need to be developed to promote Downtown and stimulate appropriate investments in Downtown properties and businesses. Downtown belongs to everyone and the revitalization process requires a strong commitment from all sectors (stakeholders) within the community. Educating these stakeholders and changing the community’s attitudes takes time and persistence, but is a critical component in the revitalization process. As understanding grows, citizens will become more actively engaged in the implementation of strategies to improve Downtown’s economic and physical condition. The public and private sectors must form an alliance (partnership) to pool their resources to address the future of Downtown, stimulate, and direct positive change.

During the recent past, Montezuma has had many successes in its community building efforts – residential development, new library, rehabilitated City Hall/fire station, parks, etc. to name a few. Through this assessment visit, Montezuma has taken another step in addressing its commercial district’s future. Now, additional actions are necessary to continue to improve the climate for reinvestment, improve the viability of existing businesses, increase customer traffic, and attract new business to fill the vacant and under-utilized properties, invest in building improvements and increase Downtown’s uses, thereby increasing its value. As you already know, change does not occur overnight. The successes will be incremental and every success should be celebrated. Failures will occur and lessons will be learned.

The intent of this document is to assist Montezuma leaders in their journey to improve Downtown physically, economically, socially and politically. This assessment occurred in a relatively short period of time and addresses the issues participants identified as important during the visit. Despite limited time, the Assessment Team interviewed approximately 90 individuals representing a cross section of stakeholders in the community. This assessment visit and recommendations should serve as a call to action and provide the community with current information to formulate strategies necessary to address the very serious issue of saving Downtown for future generations. This report cannot and does not provide all of the answers. Ultimately, Montezuma citizens must explore their options, decide what is relevant and realistic and acquire additional information and resources as they address Downtown’s future.

“Never doubt that a small group of committed dependable citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Mead

“ONE WORD” DESCRIPTIONS OF MONTEZUMA

*Indicates descriptives voiced multiple times

The Assessment Team asked interviewees for “one word” descriptions of Montezuma. Collectively Montezuma was described as:

Home/Homey*, Dilapidated*, Stable*, Small town*,Friendly*, County seat*, Pride*, Great Place*, Supportive*, Safe*, Caring*, Quaint*, Rural*, Brutal, Dead, We vs. they, Neglected, Stuck, Future, Unique, Infrastructure/Rundown,Tight knit, Clean, Unity, School, Teamwork, Close, Nice, Stagnant, Worried, Concerned, Progressive, Set in their way, Conservative, New, Family, Surviving, Loyalty, Community minded, In a hurry

Young Adults:

Pride*, Quiet*, Unique*, Dilapidated*, Friendly*, Confusing, Opinionated, Involved, Trails, Great, Industry, Safe, Small town, Community

High School Students:

Small, Supportive, Family

“ONE WORD” DESCRIPTIONS OF DOWNTOWN

* Indicates a descriptive voiced multiple times

The Assessment Team asked interviewees for “one word” descriptions of Downtown Montezuma. Collectively, Downtown was described as:

Old*, Aging*, Empty/empty buildings*, Lacking*, Needs improved*, Lack of retail/business*, Convenient *, Run down, Tired, Inactive, Help!, Potential, Restoration, Active businesses, Buildings need fixing, Old fashioned, Quiet, Quaint, Wide street, Unique, Service oriented, Trying, Friendly, Flowers, Still, Stagnant, Bare, Supportive, Crumbling, Wanting, Floundering, Active, Welcoming, Variety, Out dated, Desolate, Dull, Needy, Dingy, Unattractive, Renovation, Beautiful, Non aggressive merchants, Fragmented

Young Adults:

Old*, Unappealing*, Needs updated*, Empty/empty buildings*, Dull & Dingy, Square (layout), Beautiful, Clean, Opportunity, Forgotten, Not visible, Not a destination, Absentee ownership, Deserted, Still, Morning active, Run down, Not much there, Sidewalks, Outdated, Constantly changing

High School Students:

Boring*, Quiet, Empty

COMMUNITY’S ASSETS

*Indicates assets voiced multiple times

Interviewees were asked to identify Montezuma’s assets. Collectively, the following assets were mentioned:

Courthouse*, K-12 School*, Caring, compassionate people*, Lake Ponderosa*, Diamond Lake*, Mfg jobs/industry*, Outdoor Recreation*, Community support*, Volunteerism*, Enthusiasm for schools*, Great place to raise a family*, Supportive businesses*, Some restaurants*, Health Care/Dr*, Fire Department*, Museums*, Location*, Parks*, County Seat*, Churches*, Municipal Utilities*, Brownell’s*, Library, FFA, City Council, Historic jail, Food Pantry, Monuments, Diverse employment opportunities, Montezuma Community Development, Large Square, Two independent banks, Local organizations, Boosters, Access to interstate, Major large businesses, Close knit community, Motocross, Highway 63, Car Show, Diverse Business, Farming, Housing Project, Nursing Home, Lions Club, Veterinarian

Young Adults:

Schools*, Courthouse, Job opportunities, Manufacturing companies, Municipal, Diamond Lake, Location, Volunteers, The Square, Community Support, Churches, Courthouse, People, Outdoor recreation, Highway 63, Diverse businesses, People coming together, Welcoming, Supportive people, County seat, Power plant, Farming community

High School Students:

Community support, Churches, Museums, New library, Courthouse, Safe, Small town, Do know everybody

“COMMUNITY’S CHALLENGES”

*Indicates challenges voiced multiple times

Interviewees were asked to identify Montezuma’s challenges. Collectively, challenges identified were:

Limited dining/lack of restaurants*, Housing*, Getting & keeping people involved*, Derelict properties*, Slumlord mentality*, Older population*, Aging infrastructure*, Shopping locally*, Retaining young adults*, Cleaning up properties*, School enrollment*, Aging buildings*, Keeping viable small businesses*, Empty storefronts*, No nightlife/lack of entertainment*, Lack of day care, Creating a common vision, Misconception that Community Dev. Corp. is part of city, Always look at new business growth versus catering to existing businesses, Above average number of low income families, Taking pride in properties, Communication, Increasing the local labor shed, Cost of gas to go elsewhere to buy, Trailer court, Keeping Highway 63 in Montezuma, Lack of retail, Absentee owners, Changes in volunteerism – kid focused, Getting people on the same page, Bring New business, Economic challenges of rehab, Impact of lower income residents

Young Adults:

Getting a common vision*, Finding employees, Stagnant ideas, Resistance to change, Little or no entertainment, Same leadership forever, Replacing closed businesses, Revolving door of businesses, Access to technical assistance, Borrowing capital, Bringing new small business to town, Ability to travel easier, Getting people under 50 to move here, Not a convenient location, Looking forward, Getting city to work with community, Empty buildings, Lack of business, Buying local/supporting local businesses, Old buildings, Rehab costs, Metal clad buildings

High School Students:

Empty buildings, No kids’ activities, Getting people downtown, Short lived businesses, Nothing to do

DOWNTOWN’S ASSETS

*Indicates assets voiced multiple times

Interviewees were asked to identify Downtown’s assets. Collectively, the following assets were mentioned:

Courthouse*, Walk-able square*, Ministerial association activities on Square*, Monuments*, Museum*, Car dealership*, Drug store*, Fabric store*, Grocery stores*, Florist*, Hardware store*, Bowling alley*, Furniture store*, 3 Sisters*, Flooring*, Friendly business owners*, Library*, Sidewalks/street lights*, New flower planters*, Good wide streets*, Variety of basic goods and services in town*, Convenience services*, Banks, Dentist, Doctor, Post office, Barber, Business boosters, Sumer Tuesday nights, Volunteers who care, Historic buildings, Owner occupied apartments, Proximity of businesses, Attractiveness, Quaint, Simone’s

Young Adults:

Fire station*, Square*, Courthouse*, Existing businesses*, Monuments*, Historic museum*, Fabric store*, Buildings, Drug store, Chevy dealer, Planters, Longevity of businesses, Courthouse lawn, Lots of different looking buildings, Two banks, Library, Nucleus of town, Bowling alley, Heart of the town, 3 Sisters, Florist, Grocery, Furniture, Flooring

High School Students:

Drug store, Salons, Chevy dealer, Historic buildings, Active, supportive businesses, Comforting, Home, Planters – flowers, Christmas Walk (they miss it)

“DOWNTOWN’S CHALLENGES”

*Indicates desires voiced multiple times

Interviewees were asked to identify Downtown’s Challenges:

Sad facades/facelifts*, Empty storefronts*, Buildings needing improvements*, Old, old buildings*, People leave downtown to do business*, Absentee owners*, Lack of restaurants*, Blighted buildings*, Not a lot of retail choices*, Getting people to use businesses*, Cost/value of real estate*, New storefronts*, Need restaurant like Apple Basket*, Cost of renovations, Collapsing wall/Foundations, Store hours not posted, Keep going, Building owners not repairing buildings, Need diversity of businesses, Lack of revitalization plan, Safety – need 4 way stops, Need to revitalize buildings, Mobil society, Aging infrastructure, Get new Businesses, Blighted areas, Lack of investment, Attracting customers

Young Adults:

No Money*, Lack of business*, Vacant upper floors, Lack of evening activities, Old buildings, Buying local, Rehab costs, Communication/information sharing, Entertainment, Metal clad buildings, Lack of restaurants, Keep existing businesses, Getting people to invest, Getting more people into town

High School Students:

Empty Buildings, Few Activities for teens/kids, Getting people downtown

“DOWNTOWN DESIRES”

*Indicates desires voiced multiple times

Interviewees were asked to identify their Downtown Desires:

More businesses*, Thriving, vibrant, quaint downtown that’s a destination/attraction*, Unique niche stores/ businesses*, More restaurants*, Repaired/renovated buildings*, Fully occupied storefronts*, Better partnership with lakes residents*, All buildings used*, Beautification*, More retail*, Variety store*, Thriving stores*, Service retail*, One stop shopping area*, Night Life/evening hours*, To be Mayberry USA, Repaired sidewalks off square, Chocolate/wine shops, Restored Memorial Hall, Murals, Supportive residents, Kids activities and events, Awnings on buildings, Common theme, Removed old signs, More people living in community, Movie theater, Fitness center, Revitalized square, Cooperative property owners, Businesses supporting businesses

Young Adults:

Business Diversity*, Beautification*, Sit Down restaurant*, More stores/businesses*, Updated district*, More stores*, More shoppers*, Vibrant, Weekend Store Hours, Busy weekends, Destination businesses, More community involvement, Niche businesses, Pride in Downtown, A place to bring my college friends, Attract younger people, Community Center, Maintained buildings, Eye catching district, Identified niche

High School Students:

Soda Fountain, Exciting District, Place to Hang out, Not be a “drive through” town, Alive, Special for us, Christmas Walk Event

“COMMUNITY QUOTES”

During the interview process, the following comments were shared:

“We want people to stay here.”

“Building owners don’t want to sell their empty buildings.”

“The ethos is to return to yesteryear. Summer nights is an off shoot of that nostalgia.”

“Downtown is pretty still at 7 pm.”

“Retailers are not well represented on Montezuma Business Booster Club.”

“We need places to eat.”

“We have a robust enthusiasm for our schools.”

“People want a quality of life here and are striving to make it so.”

“We have to find a way to use what we do have to our advantage.”

“No matter what happens, we’re going to come together and take care of it.”

“There’s a lot of businesses that employ a lot of people in town.”

“People will volunteer if the need arises.”

“We have to keep the grocery store.”

“We want to look like Bloomfield.”

“We are not a total trash town.”

“We are a helping community, but there is a segment of people that will ignore you.”

“On the second Tuesday of every month, people come to the square and have fun at no cost.”

“We have a ministerial association that is very giving.”

“We can’t get businesses to cooperate.”

“We need to keep what we have and bring in other business to support them.”

“They are finally getting aggressive.”

“Lower income kids have more learning disabilities.”

“We are only an hour or less away from big stores.”

“The lack of eating facilities in town is an issue.”

“We are the county seat.”

“If the city council is not involved with solutions, it’s not going to happen.”

“People assume they have to leave town to get their needs met.”

“Montezuma has the most potential to do great things and does nothing with it.”

“The city has done a good job running the infrastructure of the community, but not marketing the community.”

“The city council has done a great job over the years of taking care of infrastructure.”

“I’ve lived here for almost 30 years and I’m still an outsider.”

“Local businesses don’t support each other.”

“In Montezuma, if someone rises up, the community pulls them down.”

“Volunteers planted, watered & maintained planters all summer.”

“For a small town, we have lots of small businesses to use.”

“The proximity of business to each other is convenient and attractive.”

“We have a lot of people that will step up and volunteer.”

“We are fortunate with what we have for a town of our size.”

“Businesses need to set hours and be open.”

“Everything is going in the right direction now.”

“Business people are aging. We don’t have younger business owners.”

“The Apple Basket restaurant was a big drawing card.”

“There are lots of bad basements.”

“Empty buildings are depressing.”

“We have too much empty space.”

“Coming in on Highway 63, downtown is not so pretty.”

“The city does not make it easy to use upstairs apartments downtown (parking requirements).”

“We need to make intersections four-way stops.”

“Downtown is unkempt.”

“There is no continuity with building maintenance.”

“Buildings have become more and more rundown over time.”

“We are willing to work for a quality of life in our community.”

“In the last few years there has been a lot more moving and shaking in the community.”

“What is there here to entertain those who are in the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s?”

“We need to be able to look forward.”

“We are all standing facing out instead of facing together.”

“People don’t ask questions because they don’t want to look stupid.”

“There are a lot more things here than in most small towns.”

“We have a pretty “Mayberry USA” downtown.”

“It could be homier if we could fill the buildings.”

“We could be great for half day bus trips.”

“Is this a good town to raise our kids?”

“The town needs to make the lakes part of its identity/”

“People need to set hours and be open!”

“We need to attract the younger generation here.”

“We need to strengthen the town/lake relationship.”

“Montezuma is known for its locally developed businesses.”

“We need to be able to open up and discuss issues to find common ground.”

“We need to build businesses to sustain more visitors.”

“Getting more people to live here will help retail.”

“We need to get the building issues figured out.”

“I think we can do it!”

“COMMUNITY QUOTES” – YOUNG ADULTS

“We don’t want middle aged people to take over because we’ve done it this way for years.”

“We need something for young adults without kids to do.”

“We need to support new businesses in order to keep them.”

“Montezuma is a great community to be involved in.”

“We need guidelines to maintain buildings.”

“People come together at school events.”

“We have to find a way to use what we do have to our advantage.”

“During the last ten years, there has been a lot more moving and shaking going on trying to make the community move forward.”

“We have a lot to offer for a town our size.”

“Younger people are not into groups.”

“Finding production employees is a huge challenge.”

“75% of our employees commute into town.”

“Montezuma is generations deep.”

“We need fresh thoughts, fresh ideas.”

“There is lots of opposition to new ideas.”

“The trailer court is the first thing you see coming into Montezuma from the north.”

“Eventually, we have to doze it down and start over.”

“Some people are stuck in the status quo.”

“The square set up is nice, but we could utilize it better.”

“For housing, there is not a lot to choose from. What there is, is pretty expensive.”

“There is nothing here for the 25 – 40 year olds.:

“There is a lack of affordable housing.”

“We need more decent rental properties.”

“How do regular people get going to redo a building or a business?”

“How do people know who to go to, to get some answers?”

“It would take a big chunk of money to re-do my apartments.”

“Montezuma does not reach out to younger people.”

“The apartments are too far gone. They are not feasible.”

“We need to know why small businesses are not surviving.”

“Memorial Hall kitchen is a dump.”

“Where are all the industrial employees that work here living? The key is having affordable and nice housing.”

“We all shop at each other’s businesses.”

“The older generation doesn’t want to listen to younger people with different ideas.”

“We use the bike trails and two city parks.”

“I drive to Des Moines to see a show.”

“This town has a great city center.”

“It takes community to get the community going.”

“We are a mobile society and go elsewhere. I’m guilty of it, too.”

“I want downtown to be a place to bring my college friends.”

“We are conveniently and inconveniently located in the middle of everything.”

 “COMMUNITY QUOTES” – HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

“The main focus of the City Council is the older generation, not youth.”

“There are just no activities for youth.”

“Montezuma does not have a curfew. There should be one for junior high school aged kids and below.”

“We (Montezuma) is like one big family. We are all close.”

“Summer Nights is fun.”

“We miss the Christmas Walk.”

“We need a new generation of people to open businesses.

ASSESSMENT TEAM’S OBSERVATIONS

The Assessment Team bases the following opinions/observations on our driving tour, walking tour, and discussions with local business owners and community representatives:

Montezuma has a great industrial base of largely homegrown industries. These businesses draw commuter employees from the region to work in Montezuma. Most Iowa communities of less than 2,000 population would be very envious of this employment base. On the flip side, we understand it has been a challenge in recent years to find employees to fill jobs.

The lakes are a great asset – both for recreation as well as for housing opportunities. Both Lake Ponderosa and Diamond Lake are high quality assets for the community and the entire county.

Montezuma is in close proximity to two of Iowa’s major metros providing the unlimited opportunities for day travel to Montezuma.

The City of Montezuma owns and operates its own municipal utilities creating another revenue source for important community investments in infrastructure and community development.

Montezuma continues to maintain an intact K-12 school campus and recently passed a school bond referendum for extensive remodeling and renovations to the school buildings. Most communities of 1,400 population have consolidated with other districts, which has resulted in grade sharing with other communities.

Montezuma enjoys a solid population of young adult professionals who are passionate about the community. Identifying, getting and keeping these people involved, to work towards a common vision is key to future growth. Capturing the energy and enthusiasm of this new generation of leaders who expressed frustration about stagnant ideas, static leadership and resistance to change is a golden opportunity to engage them.

The young adult and high school age focus group participants expressed concerns about the lack of quality of life amenities and activities for youth and young adults resulting in limited entertainment options and a sense that there is nothing to do in the community for younger aged residents.

To Montezuma’s credit, the community has been able to keep most “people generating” uses Downtown. This is critical if the community is committed to maintaining a healthy, vibrant and economically valuable city center. It is important to have grocery stores, library, fire station, city hall, post office, courthouse, churches, banks, in the core Downtown. They create the reason for people to come Downtown on a daily or weekly basis.

The community has consciously or unconsciously developed most commercial activity around or near Downtown. As the community grows, city leaders and development groups need to be very conscious of the potential negative impacts on Downtown by newly developed commercial areas.

Downtown is a National Register Historic District, which makes “contributing buildings” eligible to take advantage of state and federal tax credits to lessen the final cost of rehabilitation. This is significant when the cost of rehabilitation is greater than the building’s ability to generate income once rehabilitated. Combined, the state and federal tax credits could reduce the final cost of rehabilitation by about 45%.

Downtown has a significant number of longstanding businesses. Additionally, new entrepreneurs are also opening businesses or acquiring existing ones. However, significant concerns were raised about the need to keep viable small businesses, create new businesses, replace closed businesses and address the issue of short-lived businesses.

Downtown has a unique community outreach recreational facility, the Presbyterian Family Center, which is available to community residents. It is part of an amazing Ministerial Association, which takes community outreach to remarkable levels.

Downtown is a traditional “pedestrian friendly” square district with the courthouse in the middle of the square. The essence of “Main Street America” is typified by this style of Downtown. The City has invested in a new streetscape around the square, which includes sidewalks, streetlights, planters and banners. Downtown is home to a growing number of monuments recognizing significant events, heroes, or documents important to our way of life.

Interestingly, over 74% of focus group participants used positive adjectives when describing Montezuma, while approximately 26% shared negative ones. Conversely, about 65% of the same participants used negative adjectives to describe Downtown Montezuma while about 35% used positive ones. This indicates that while there is significant satisfaction about the community in general, there is a significant amount of much dissatisfaction with the condition of Downtown. This was demonstrated in the “one word” descriptions detailed earlier in this report.

Currently Downtown Montezuma does not reflect the overall vitality, character and quality of the rest of the community. Downtown is generally the least attractive and least desirable part of Montezuma. This was confirmed by focus group discussions and both the driving and walking tours.

Downtown has recently been designated as a National Register Historic District. The community is participating in the Certified Local Government program. Montezuma now has its own paid professional development staff for the first time (Montezuma Community Development). These are important tools for Downtown. It appears that now is the time to seriously ramp up downtown revitalization efforts.

The majority of businesses in Downtown have store hours that are not convenient for today’s consumer. Most store hours are not posted – how are we to know when to shop? It appears that the Downtown business community could significantly strengthen its business volume by adjusting business hours to reflect today’s reality. We heard that 60% of Montezuma’s workforce commutes into town for work. It is very difficult for commuters, whether they live in Montezuma and commute out or live elsewhere and commute in, to support local Downtown businesses with their current store hours.

According to ESRI Business Analyst data (www.esri.com) there is significant leakage in several retail categories in Montezuma: food & drink (full and limited service restaurants); building materials; clothing & general merchandise stores. This was confirmed in our focus group discussions. With such a large percentage of “out” and “in” commuters, limited store hours in Montezuma, and proximity to shopping opportunities in two major metros, many find it more convenient to shop in the metros because of perceived or real competitive prices, selection and store hours.

There are a lot more vacant storefronts, vacant lots and vacant upper floors than most people realize (vacancies, occupied vacancies, hobby businesses, inappropriate storefront apartments).

Based on our focus groups, it seems like the time is right to act. We heard repeatedly that Downtown was worth saving. Without exception, every group expressed that Downtown had value because of its “historic buildings, existing, supportive businesses, new planters/streetscape, and its quaint, comforting, walk-able, feel.” All focus groups identified Downtown’s historic buildings as “assets”. Repeatedly, we heard that Montezuma citizens want their historic structures rehabilitated. They want Downtown to be economically, physically and socially healthier. They want a vibrant Downtown with unique niche stores, more restaurants, with evening and weekend activity; they want a special place that will be appealing to long-term residents, new residents & visitors. In a nutshell, they want today’s version of the healthy Downtown Montezuma had in the 1960’s, full and vibrant. This is certainly possible. However, the Montezuma Downtown of 50 years ago is gone forever, never to return. Tomorrow’s Downtown Montezuma can once again be vibrant and exciting, but it will be different with a unique economic focus or “niche”. This will only happen as a result of a lot of determination and effort from both the public and private sectors.

We heard a number of times about the need for affordable housing. This issue is larger than the focus of this report. We will, however include recommendations relative to upstairs Downtown housing which should be a priority for every downtown development organization.

It is important to note that downtown revitalization/downtown development is not something we start today and complete tomorrow. It is bigger than a streetscape; larger than an updated infrastructure; more important than linking Downtown to the highway, greater than developing niche businesses. To have a healthy and economically contributing Downtown means an on-going effort. There is no such thing as a big fix/quick fix solution for Downtown!

DOWNTOWN CHALLENGES

Historically, there has been some wealth in Montezuma. This is evident by investments made throughout the community. In historically wealthier communities, Downtown building owners have had the financial resources to invest into storefront facelifts. With the best of intentions, many historic storefronts were significantly altered with inappropriate façade-a-mies. Aluminum slipcovers covered up entire building facades, often ignoring underlying maintenance issues, which continued to escalate under the slipcover. We call this “REMUDDLING” because, in most cases, architectural details important to the aesthetic value of the buildings were removed, altered or covered over. Upper facades that once had a significant relationship to the storefront became disconnected. Mansard roofs, reduced storefront windows, covered over transoms, and barrel awnings are the result of these remuddlings

In order for Montezuma to better understand Downtown and the importance of the pedestrian environment, it’s important to look at a traditional Downtown building to discover why and how they contribute to the pedestrian experience.

A BUILDING’S ANATOMY

Every feature of the façade of a traditional Downtown building enhances the street face. From bulkheads and display windows which allow the pedestrian to step right up to the storefront, to upper story windows and cornices which create a repetitive pattern building after building, giving rhythm and symmetry to entire blocks. Every time we eliminate or cover up these details, we lessen the value of the pedestrian experience and, over time, lessen the value of Downtown.

ARCHITECTURE

You can live without her – but you can’t remember without her.

There appears to be a lack of pride in the appearance of Downtown. Many buildings are empty and in disrepair. Windows are boarded up, many have closed-in storefronts, bricks are falling off and many buildings need re-pointing. Weeds are abundant in the sidewalk cracks throughout Downtown and graffiti is evident. It appears that the community is waiting for “somebody else” to do it.

As noted, Downtown buildings are in need of attention. Every focus group discussed the fact that Downtown buildings were in need of help. Many buildings are not fully utilized, with vacant upper floors, unrealistically requiring the first floor to earn enough income to support a multi-story building. The reality is that the costs to rehabilitate and maintain a building are difficult to justify based solely on receiving an economic return from the first floor.

As is the case in virtually every Iowa community, the cost of renovating buildings is a huge challenge. Decades of deferred maintenance has resulted in increased costs for rehabilitation. There are no simple solutions to overcome this challenge. However, there are a number of financial tools Montezuma could take advantage of to lessen the final costs to building owners and developers. Understanding how to use these tools will require research and education. State and Federal Tax Credits and the CDBG Downtown Revitalization Fund are very useful tools that could be utilized to assist with rehabilitation costs.

There are a number of vacancies Downtown. During our walking tour, we identified the following:

About a dozen (12) vacant storefronts, which represent an economic loss to the Downtown of over $3 million annually! This does not take into account the economic loss from at least six (6) vacant lots in Downtown ($1.5 million plus) or other buildings that appear to be used for storage (occupied vacancies).

Well over twenty (20) vacant upper floor apartments, not including the vacant three story old hotel and the vacant two floors of the phone company building. The twenty vacant upper floor apartments alone represent an economic loss to the Downtown of over $500,000 annually in lost rents, utilities, sales, entertainment, etc. Upper floor residents become immediate customers for Downtown businesses.

As noted, there are a large number of vacancies, more than most focus group participants realized. According to Donovan Rypkema, Place Economics, Washington DC, the economic cost of a vacant 25’ storefront in a small Midwestern town Downtown is:

Conservatively using just 60% of the above figures, the amount of vacancy in Downtown Montezuma represents over $2.7 million a year in lost economic activity, not even including vacant upper story spaces.

Is this acceptable or does Montezuma need to get serious about downtown revitalization and reverse this trend?

To be successful, Montezuma will have to think differently about Downtown. The public and private sectors will have to develop a stronger partnership and become proactive in its development.

Visitors and users of today’s successful Downtowns expect a total experience inclusive of eating, discovery, shopping and entertaining. Consumer demands are very different than they were in the 1960’s. Montezuma’s consumers are quite different than they were 50 years ago, ethnically, socially and culturally. Many of them are weekend residents, campers and commuters. Downtown does not have to be Main Street Walt Disney World, but it does have to capture and engage the visitor. It must be welcoming and accepting. Hours will have to adjust to reflect today’s consumers. Currently, consumers make 70% of their purchases after 4 p.m. and on weekends, typically time periods when Downtown is closed. Uses Downtown will be driven by lifestyle. Upper floor living spaces will need to appeal to empty nesting baby boomers, recent retirees and young professionals. Investments into Downtown buildings will need to happen for this transition to occur.

The future of downtown is dependent on making some tough decisions:

Is Montezuma willing to think differently about how to develop Downtown?

Is Montezuma willing to decide who Downtown will cater to? The commuter, the visitor, the camper, the weekend resident, the local, all of them?

Are the Downtown storeowners willing to adjust business hours and practices to be more convenient and accommodating for commuters, campers, weekend residents and visitors?

Is the community willing to make the human and financial investments needed to improve Downtown’s buildings, side street sidewalks, upper floor living spaces, businesses, etc.?

Is the community willing to embrace change for an economically healthier Downtown?

Are the public and private sectors willing to collaborate?

Is the City ready to adopt the ordinances and help create the development tools necessary for Downtown to be all that it could be?

Is Montezuma ready to create incentives to incite appropriate building rehabilitation?

Is Montezuma ready to move forward and develop its Downtown?

Historic Preservation is an enormously important economic development tool. Today’s discerning consumers are looking for real experiences as they shop and spend their leisure hours. They are tired of the same old experiences afforded at malls and big box retailers. Today’s young adults require the energy afforded them in interesting, creative spaces that Downtown can offer.

Is Montezuma ready to create the tools necessary to protect and develop its historic assets? Is the City ready to embrace those tools and empower the Historic Preservation Commission to be a leader in preservation based economic development to support private sector initiatives?

Identifying and capitalizing on economic niches will be the key to Downtown’s future health. No longer can Downtown Montezuma be all things to all people. In fact, it has not served in this capacity for many years. It will have to focus on excelling in a few economic niches serving a more targeted market. As an example, Downtown Montezuma has:

A significant number of office, professional and service type businesses;

A nucleus of “home improvement and decor” type businesses;

A significant number of personal health & beauty type businesses.

The weakest retail categories are food & drink (full service and limited service dining), general merchandise stores and apparel stores. Of these three categories, the addition of food & drink establishments would significantly support the niches identified above.

With adequate planning and analysis, home improvement and health & beauty could become very strong and complementary economic niches. Food and drink has significant potential as well.

Is niche development the key to Downtown’s future? Are there other potential niches? Is Montezuma willing to collaborate and build on identified niches in order to grow?

It’s important to accept the fact that your grandparents’ Downtown is gone forever. It is time to develop the new and improved version, one that will meet the needs of today’s users. Downtown Montezuma can become healthier economically, physically, socially and politically and be even more valuable to its citizens, but it will be different.

It’s also important to note that change will not be easy! Nevertheless, it must occur!!! If the focus group interviewees are reflective of the community, then it’s time for the community to band together with committed leadership and proactively make change occur.

ASSESSMENT TEAM’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The Assessment team’s recommendations are categorized into immediate (now), short term (6 to 12 months), and longer term (beyond 12 months). It is important to take one-step at a time and understand that the longer-term recommendations are not of much consequence until the shorter term recommendations are addressed. As the process gains momentum, community leadership will need to determine additional strategies and develop approaches that are more sophisticated.

The Million Dollar Question Montezuma needs to answer is:

“What does Montezuma want to be when it grows up? Times have changed, not just for Downtown, but for the entire community in general. According to our focus group participants, they universally said they want an exciting Downtown with unique niche businesses, rehabilitated buildings, with nightlife and weekend activity that makes it a special district for visitors and residents alike. They want more activities for everyone and they want to be proud of their Downtown. They have said that they want a Downtown with real authenticity and vibe with an enhanced variety of eating & drinking establishments, destination shops and entertainment options. They do not want a “drive through” Downtown. It appears that residents of the community are ready for change. They said that they want a community that retains its small town charm and has a viable and unique Downtown. The community needs to decide how to make that happen. The good news is that the decision is yours. Montezuma can have the type of community and Downtown it desires, if it is willing to work for it.

Since having a vibrant and healthy Downtown was repeatedly expressed as a priority, the community needs to make a serious commitment to creating the exciting Downtown everyone seems to desire. It will require a paradigm shift by the community to make significant changes to the way they think and the way the City and the private sector collaborate to develop the tools and identify the financial resources to retain and enhance the characteristics valued by many of the people we interviewed.

RECOMMENDATIONS—IMMEDIATE

(within 6 months)

Develop a press release about this visit.

Use the visit as an opportunity to inform and educate the community about the purpose, intensity and initial recommendations from the team. Update your Facebook page and blogs with content regarding the visit and immediate project plans. Keep your community informed!

Attend the IEDA webinar on the Downtown Revitalization Fund grant program scheduled for Tuesday, October 23, 2012.

Hold a follow up community meeting to discuss the grant program and determine a course of action.

Join the National Main Street Center Network.

It is the country’s largest downtown development affinity group. By joining the network, the community will be able to receive:

– information about national downtown development training opportunities;

– an excellent newsletter filled with case study success stories;

– access to a countrywide list-serve allowing the community to pose questions, seek examples of downtown development tools and receive input from communities throughout the country;

The annual cost to join the network is a bargain at $250 a year. A membership application is included with the enclosures to the original copy of this report.

Confirm who will be the lead organization to address downtown revitalization.

It will take dedicated staff and resources if it is to be addressed correctly. Nevertheless, somebody must take the lead. Is it Montezuma Community Development? The City? Another entity? A combined effort? Whoever it is, staff will need to be assigned to coordinate the efforts of a broad base of community constituents and orchestrate these or other recommendations. Whichever organization it is, it must be clear to staff that downtown revitalization will be a priority of the organization. Until this happens, not very much will likely occur because without dedicated, paid professional management, there is not sufficient volunteer time to coordinate the efforts. Additionally, with everyone taking responsibility, no one is accountable.

Make sure all Downtown building owners (local and absentee) and business owners are included in regular mailings and communications.

Consider soliciting electronic mail addresses for cost effective communication. Our experience has shown that regular communication with building and business owners is essential in order to inform them about what is happening Downtown and to educate them on appropriate rehabilitation.

Offer a weekly email blast to everyone who wants it.

A better-informed community is a more empowered community. Make certain to invite technology driven Generation X/Y and Millennials to sign up for the weekly email. It’s important to note that electronic communication is the preferred method of choice of today’s younger generations.

Assemble a volunteer “beautification” committee to:

Buy bottles of Roundup and send volunteers out weekly to spray the weeds in all the sidewalks Downtown.

Clean up vacant storefronts & lots- litter, weeds, wash windows, sweep entries, etc.

Develop a uniform “store hours” sign for Downtown businesses to display in their windows

Work with business owners to display address numbers on their storefronts

Though these activities may seem small by themselves, they will have great impact on visitor impressions about Downtown Montezuma.

Plan and implement a community Christmas activity Downtown in December, 2012.

There is no better time than the present to bring community activities into the city center. Start simple in 2012 and build it into a great special event in future years.

Hold a community meeting(s) to review the recommendations from this report.

Decide if there is support to embrace and implement these recommendations or if a different course of action is preferred. Review and compare the Monte 2020 survey results with this assessment visit report and identify commonalities that could be addressed at the same time.

RECOMMENDATIONS –SHORT TERM

(within six to twelve months)

Twice a year, conduct a volunteer “clean up Downtown” event.

Spring and Fall are the most appropriate times to do this. Wash windows, clean up trash (alleys), pull weeds, etc. This is a good opportunity to enlist the support of the garden club, school clubs, service organizations in addition to Downtown building and business owners. After all, Downtown belongs to the entire community. Contact Colfax to learn about their highly successful clean up days. Contact information for Colfax is included in the contacts and resources page at the end of this report.

Establish a “vacant building” sub-committee whose purpose is to improve the visual appearance of every vacant building.

This includes collecting used bed linens from the local nursing home/lodging/care facilities and hanging them as curtains in freshly washed vacant upper story windows; establishing a window display program inviting and scheduling non-profit organizations to create window displays for freshly washed vacant storefront windows on a 45 to 60 day cycle; and, working with building owners to remove obsolete signs. This is a very hands-on sub-committee, which will see immediate results. Work with the building owners that are willing to work with you. Don’t invest lots of energy with building owners who do not want to participate.

Have the volunteer “beautification” committee create attractive, “available building” signs for each vacant storefront.

Signs should be uniform in size and posted in one of the lower corners of the freshly installed window displays referenced above. Contact name and phone number should be displayed as well as whether the space is available for lease or sale. Consider making available informational flyers to be placed in next-door businesses for them to distribute when someone inquires about the space.

Contact Corning, Iowa and Charles City, Iowa to learn about high school and Downtown collaboration.

These collaborative efforts between their downtown development organizations and the school district train high school students on the history, purpose and importance of their communities, specifically their city centers. These communities understand that every incoming class of ninth graders is the next generation of ambassadors at the fast food restaurants and convenience stores. The message they share with visitors is the first impression visitors receive about your community. By changing their views, Corning and Charles City have been successful in turning negative thoughts and comments about their communities into proud statements about these students’ hometown. Contact information for both Corning and Charles City is included in the contacts and resources page at the end of this report.

Visit Woodbine, Iowa, Bloomfield, Iowa and Belle Plaine, Iowa to learn how they successfully utilized the CDBG Downtown Revitalization Fund grant program to rehabilitate numerous Downtown storefronts.

Meet with their city officials, Downtown leaders and building owners to learn about the process, the challenges, the economies of scale and the successes of the program. Contact information for Woodbine, Bloomfield and Belle Plaine is included in the contacts and resources page at the end of this report.

Invite high school students to plan some youth centered Christmas Walk activities for December, 2013.

Empower them to plan, organize and conduct the activities. Require them to develop action plans that define activities, budgets, timelines and outcomes. Once approved by the Christmas Walk organizing committee, empower the high school students to make it happen. Make sure Christmas Walk and as many community festivals as possible occur Downtown!

Assemble a volunteer “special events” committee to plan summer outdoor activities like movie nights, music on the square, etc. or a July 4th celebration to augment the monthly Summer Nights events. Consider doing a “stand still” parade around the square showcasing all of the amazing products manufactured by local Montezuma industry. A “stand still” parade is where the floats remain in one place and the parade attendees walk around to see the floats!

Assemble a “monument marketing” task force made up of social media buffs to develop marketing materials for the ever growing public monuments. Such strategy should include contemporary technology like geo coding, QR codes, Facebook, and traditional technology like brochures and walking tours.

Develop a simple survey to distribute to campers as they register for campsites at Diamond Lake.

Find out what they might want, need, could use or would purchase in Downtown Montezuma or would like to have available for purchase during their camping vacations. Work with existing retailers to carry these products. Then develop a marketing campaign to inform the campers that these products are available Downtown.

Create annual marketing campaign for Lake residents to promote Downtown Montezuma.

Highlight what can be purchased, attended, experienced, visited, touched or heard by coming Downtown.

If not already done, annually hold a joint planning retreat with all community and economic development groups: City, Montezuma Community Development & Poweshiek Development boards.

By having formal reporting and assignment of responsibilities, communication and collaboration among all the development organizations is strengthened. Engage the services of anoutside facilitator in order to keep the conversation and agenda moving.

Embrace the concept that historic preservation is economic development and make a concerted effort to preserve Downtown for future generations. It is important to note that change will not be easy and it will not occur overnight. But it must occur! Downtown has been slowly declining for over 40 years. Understand that it will take many years of determined, incremental, comprehensive actions to stabilize Downtown and once again increase its value to the community. There are no magic answers other than determined and committed community citizens working together for the benefit of their city center. Embracing this concept means developing the appropriate tools as discussed within these recommendations to create the environment where historic preservation is the first choice for downtown revitalization.

Investigate state & federal tax credits to rehabilitate Downtown buildings.

Learn about the 20% federal and 25% state income tax credits available for building owners who rehabilitate their buildings using the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Invite Jack Porter, State Historic Preservation Office to come to Montezuma and discuss the tax credits process. Contact information for the State Historic Preservation Office is included in the contacts and resource page at the end of this report.

Develop an education program for the community on the value of historic preservation as important development tools.

Educate on the benefits of having historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places or as part of a National Register Historic District. Share the benefits of using the 20% federal and the 25% state income tax credits for building rehabilitation. Essentially, tax credits could reduce the cost of rehabilitating a historic building by 45%. Educate on the fallacy that National Register designation takes away private property rights.

Invite Dan Tindall, The Built Environment, Grinnell, Iowa, to Montezuma to learn about limited liability corporations (LLC) and community initiated development (CID) strategies as funding mechanisms to address total building rehabilitation, new construction, upper floor housing and start-up niche businesses.

Contact Story City, Iowa to learn about the Charlson Building LLC that developed a double storefront building into six apartments and three storefronts; Burlington, Iowa to hear about their riverfront restaurant LLC; and Jewell, Iowa to learn about their development group’s successful strategy to purchase, rehab and sell or lease commercial spaces to new businesses. These types of funding tools could be used in Montezuma to rehabilitate upper floor apartments or entire buildings. Additional information about community-initiated development is included as an enclosure with the original copy of this report. Contact information for Dan Tindall, Story City, Burlington and Jewell is included in contacts and resources page at the end of this report.

Continue the community’s education about downtown development and historic preservation.

Send representatives to annual statewide historic preservation and downtown revitalization conference. Make the time to learn about the value and use of tax credits, preservation grants, and national register districts. Attend the 2013 Preserve Iowa Summit in Burlington, IA in August 2013 to learn from national experts and local practitioners about the latest trends and strategies for downtown development and preservation. Send a representative or two to the National Main Streets Conference in New Orleans, LA in April 2013.

RECOMMENDATIONS – LONGER TERM

(beyond 12 months)

Work with the City to establish an ordinance prohibiting first floor storefront apartments.

Downtown residential uses are very good for creating a local market for Downtown businesses. However, when first floor storefront apartments are allowed, they create psychological barriers to Downtown users and commercial businesses on the other side of the storefront apartment suffer and eventually go out of business.

Work with the City to adopt design guidelines & standards for Downtown.

Be careful to not make regulations so restrictive that it drives development outside of Downtown. A copy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Building Improvement File” is included as an enclosure to the original copy of this report. These basic guidelines can be used as the initial basis for reviewing grant and loan incentive program applications. Apply for a CLG grant to help develop customized guidelines specific to Montezuma’s unique architecture and built environment.

Work with the City to review and update municipal codes and regulations to ensure compatibility with the community’s vision for Downtown.

Work with the City and local banks to create Downtown specific grant and loan programs that require design review and approval.

Such programs would promote appropriate improvements to Downtown’s historic building stock while protecting the significant architectural details of Downtown’s buildings. Possible programs include:

- low interest revolving loan program for appropriate building rehabilitation projects

- façade grant program for all exposed sides of a building

- awning grant program

- new infill construction incentive loan program

- sign grants for removal of old signs from vacant buildings and for appropriate signs for existing businesses

- upper floor apartment rehabilitation

Remember to use patience and persuasion as you work with building and business owners. They are entitled to do anything they desire to their buildings if they are using their own resources. However, if they intend to use any of the Downtown incentive programs, they should be expected to adhere to design review and approval. Require that new construction use appropriate building materials (no steel/metal buildings) and have zero setbacks if they are utilizing any grant or loan programs so that they blend in with Downtown’s historic structures. Example grant and loan programs are included as enclosures with the original copy of this report.

Work with the City to establish a Downtown TIF district.

Establish the base line before any major Downtown rehabilitation projects are completed. As the property values incrementally grow as a result of building improvements, this creates a fund to incite additional projects in the Downtown.

With such a large commuter base, if Downtown retail is to survive, it must alter its business practices.

Downtown retail cannot thrive under existing hours of operation with the huge number of “in” and “out” commuters.

It’s time to hold regular meetings of “progressive” retailers to discuss extended store hours, including the biggest (per hour) retail day of the week, Sunday. Keep in mind that McDonalds Corporation claims it takes 2 years for their regular customers to realize they have made changes! This will take a major commitment from “progressive retailers” to happen. In time, other retailers will either join the group or eventually go out of business.

Agree on economic niches (direction) for Downtown.

Take the time to understand what economic niches are and how they can be a tool to improve the economic health of your historic Downtown district. Once decided, begin targeting your downtown development efforts toward these niches. Determine if home improvement/décor, personal health & beauty, food & drink, and destination specialty shops are the appropriate niches to develop or explore other ones. A copy of “Establishing Economic Niches” is included as an enclosure to the original copy of this report.

Work with industry leaders to investigate the potential for a Downtown “Made in Montezuma” store to highlight goods and services produced in town by local industry.

There are many unique local products that if collected into a single location as a retail operation, could become a destination store. These include model airplanes, garden equipment, golf carts and the products from Brownell’s.

Develop programs and activities to attract and cater to residents from Lake Ponderosa and the other residential lake developments as well as visitors to Diamond Lake.

Some suggestions include business open houses targeted to these neighborhoods; direct mail marketing; e-mail marketing campaigns; web pages; special men’s shopping evenings during Christmas season; Sunday hours, etc. Continue to look for ways to direct market to these residents on a regular basis.

Work with the school district to develop a program similar to the CITY program in Charles City and Project SOLD in Corning.

Work with school administrators to implement an “education awareness and appreciation for the local community” type program.

Use the knowledge gained about LLC’s and CID’s to establish local investment groups to acquire and rehabilitate entire Downtown buildings, renovate upper floor apartments, and to open and operate businesses.

By using LLC’s and the CID process, risk is shared by a larger number of community investors, thus making the project have less risk for any one individual. Work with local industry leaders to identify the quantity and size of upper floor corporate condos/apartments that they could realistically use to temporarily house newly hired executives. Currently, these executives are being housed outside the community.

Develop an outreach program for Downtown building owners to explain the tax benefits, grant opportunities and programs available to help fund building rehabilitation.

The downtown development organization needs to be the knowledgeable source, the one stop shop, for building owners to turn to, to discuss building improvement opportunities. Informational brochures that explain available tax credits, grants, and assistance available, should be produced and distributed personally (one-on-one), at least annually with every Downtown building owner.

Strengthen connections with statewide economic development entities like the Iowa Downtown Resource Center, Iowa Tourism Office and Professional Developers of Iowa to increase local capacity by keeping abreast of trends and issues relative to downtown and community development.

Develop action plans for every activity undertaken.

These action plans will identify all the steps necessary to complete each activity including responsible person, due date, approximate cost, measure of achievement and evaluation. Communities who embrace the action plan strategy (also called workplans or programs of work) typically accomplish twice as much during a similar time period as communities who only set goals without action plans. Sample action plans included as enclosure to the original copy of this report.

Establish long term funding strategies for Montezuma Community Development to ensure sustainability for your Downtown efforts.

As your downtown development initiatives increase, additional human and financial resources will need to be identified and utilized to meet the needs of your ever-growing initiative. Staff will need to invest more time in coordinating the work of volunteers engaged in task forces and committees and less time implementing projects. The typical Downtown organization, in communities of Montezuma’s size, has between 150 and 200 volunteers from within the community assisting with the work of the program. It is important to note though, that volunteers still come one at a time.

SUMMARY

Downtown’s vitality affects the entire community physically and mentally.

Downtown is the heart and soul of the community–its living room,

If you have the commitment to make it happen, you will find the resources over time (people, time, and money)

It is a public private partnership.

A healthy Downtown can be the unifying common thread that can connect all of Montezuma’s residents.

It’s up to you to make it happen!

There is no better time to start than today!

REMEMBER:

People want to see change, they just don’t know ………”HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN”.

You told us you were ready for change.

You now have the opportunity to …”MAKE IT HAPPEN”.

Take ownership and responsibility and …”GO”!

The Downtown Assessment Visit serves multiple purposes—raising awareness, educating, recommending, and encouraging the local community. In conducting this “self discovery” process, Montezuma has begun to empower itself by stepping out of its comfort zone. It is a good sign that the community appears ready to take additional steps to address Downtown’s challenges. This process will take creativity, hard work and an understanding that the revitalization process is incremental and requires grassroots commitment. The content of this report is intended to help Montezuma’s leaders face Downtown’s future in a positive way by focusing on the many possibilities and capitalizing on the community’s assets and resources.

Downtown can once again be one of Montezuma’s greatest assets or potentially, its biggest detriment. Its challenges will not go away. Its competition is not going away. However, Downtown’s unique architecture, its authenticity and character,

IS slowly going away as historic buildings are razed or altered. It is important to preserve the authentic past in a culture that is moving towards uniformity and sameness. The following is a paraphrase from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website article “Why Preserve?” “Some buildings are worth saving because they are good to look at. They are a “gift to the street” that enriches the surroundings. Some buildings are worth saving because there is “plenty of life left in them”. Some buildings are adapted for other innovative and/or multiple uses. And others are worth saving because they are a link to our past and help us understand “who we are.” Downtown was built with pride and purpose. Your forefathers intended their buildings to last for hundreds and hundreds of years. Their longevity depends upon the care and attention from future generations. Questions we should ask ourselves are, “Would the original designer, builder and/or owner recognize their property today? Would ‘they’ be pleased with the care and attention the property has received?”

Most of our memories are directly associated with a place. We “go back” to places we feel good about. We “go back” to places where we’ve had positive shopping experiences. We “go back” to places where we have had fun. We “go back” to places we think are important. We are also attracted to places where “we think” we will have a positive experience. We must strive to make Downtown a “go to” kind of destination, not an “avoidable area we pass through to get somewhere else”.

Downtown should be protected, nurtured and marketed in order to retain existing businesses and customers and attract investors, new businesses, and new customers. The Team’s recommendations are based upon a comprehensive and incremental approach that addresses the social, political, physical and economic values of Downtown through the implementation of activities that will increase these values—making people want to “go back” to Downtown for all of those reasons.

Montezuma is at a crossroads. It is facing many growth challenges both in the community and in Downtown. Downtown will continue to be affected and impacted by these challenges. These challenges did not occur overnight nor can they be addressed and reversed in a short period of time. A great deal of planning, patience and persistence will be required along with courage, vision, and conviction to take it one-step at a time. If you have the commitment, you will find the human and financial resources to make it happen. It requires focusing on Downtown’s assets and riches and capitalizing on your resources. Downtown has “great bones”. The challenge is to find a way to keep them and re-establish them as contributors to Downtown’s and the community’s economy. The citizens of Montezuma can either choose to sit and watch as change continues to occur Downtown and accept the consequences or take a proactive stance and guide Downtown’s future in a more predictable and productive direction. You CAN affect the outcome and have whatever Downtown you choose to have. It’s up to you! Decisions will have to be made.

Remember, EVERY COMMUNITY EVENTUALLY GETS THE DOWNTOWN THEY DESERVE.

In closing, thoughts become words – words become actions – actions become habits – habits become character – character is EVERYTHING! The character of Downtown and Montezuma deserves your utmost attention.

“If you always do what you’ve done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” 

 – Ben Boozer