Throughout the nation, Main Street programs leverage hard work, vision and funding to create community and economic vitality through historic preservation. Main Street Fort Dodge (MSFD), part of the Main Street Iowa community, works with business and property owners in the 33-block Downtown Fort Dodge Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) to foster public-private partnerships for growth and prosperity. The SSMID boundaries closely align with the Downtown Historic District but expand in some areas to the south and east to include pedestrian connections and some key commercial redevelopment areas.
The SSMID was formed in 1982, and while Fort Dodge originally became a Main Street community in 1987, it left the program in 2002. When Fort Dodge rejoined the Main Street family of communities in August 2017, the SSMID Board of Directors created a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit merging Main Street and SSMID. In late 2022, Main Street Fort Dodge welcomed a new Executive Director, Sharon Stoh. She has delved deep into learning about the history and progression of Fort Dodge.
“With all of the commercial and retail amenities changing the landscape of Fort Dodge’s east corridors, I think it's easy to forget that the Main Street District was the ONLY commercial and retail area for decades,” said Stroh. “It wasn’t until the 1970s that shopping began moving toward ‘the suburbs.’ What remained in downtown was a shadow of its former self. There were closed stores, vacant buildings and absentee landlords; the downtown fell into disrepair for long periods of time.”
“Since 2017, when Main Street Fort Dodge was launched as both an organization and a movement, there has been nearly $23 million in direct investment to stabilize buildings, renovate storefronts otherwise known as facades, and create new retail and living space in the historic district,” said Stroh. “Main Street Fort Dodge’s mission is to reclaim the downtown’s purpose and prosperity by revitalizing both the culture and character of the original merchant district. It’s my belief that with Main Street’s leadership, in cooperation with city and other civic leaders, this is happening — one step at a time. There is much to look forward to.”
Indeed, several programs are just completed, ongoing or launching soon. In 2021, MSFD awarded Danny Heggen and his associates at DEV Partners $75,000 from a Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant to renovate 1109 Central Avenue, a prominent historic three-story building. Paired with a required local match of the same amount, $150,000 is going towards constructing apartments on the upper floors and a business on the first floor.
“Eligible expenses include site prep, construction materials, construction labor, architectural and engineering services, and building permits and inspection fees,” said Stroh. “Progress is going smoothly and is just over the halfway mark. Main Street Iowa, which oversees the grant, has planned a site visit to Fort Dodge in mid-to-late January to view the progress and release the first draw in funding. Completion is expected in October 2023, at which time the remainder of the grant will be released, and the grant will close. Mr. Heggen has been exemplary in communicating his progress and following the parameters of the grant award.”
Facade updates are also an important component of Main Street Programs. In the spring of 2021, a facade project concluded that addressed buildings housing Harty’s Caddy Shack Cafe, Little Joe’s Computers, Fireside Lounge, Brass Monkey and Mary Kay’s Gifts and Home Decor. Now a second round of facade updates is underway.
“Awarded in 2021, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Downtown Revitalization Grant is for just under $1.06 million,” said Stroh. “It includes nine addresses and seven property owners. Most of these properties will receive new doors and windows, stone, tile, sandstone and mortar cleaning and sealing, awnings, some tile and roof repairs and painting. Several will be required to comply with State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) due to their historical age and significance.”
“The pre-bid meeting was held with interested contractors on January 9th, and bids are due by 2 p.m. on February 2nd,” continued Stroh. “Addresses within the project include 700, 702, 710, 801-803-805, 815 and 911 Central Avenue and 814 1st Ave South. The anticipated start date is March 2023, with significant completion due by July 2024. The community will see extraordinary changes to these structures once they are finished, and I, for one, can’t wait for the outcome. We might have to arrange a little celebration downtown!”
This isn’t the only cause for celebration. On January 9th, MSFD received completed Requests for Proposal from firms interested in helping Main Street redesign the first two of four planned alleyway improvements. “This is the inaugural project from a Streetscape Master Plan commissioned in 2020 by MSFD,” said Stroh. “A firm has not yet been selected but should be by the February board meeting date. The Design Committee will make their recommendation to the MSFD Board of Directors for confirmation and will be scored based on the qualifications and experience of the firm, track record of the firm and scope of services (creativity, sustainability, inclusion of both pedestrian and transportation flow, inclusion of interactive elements, artistic elements and cost-effectiveness). Similar types of projects can be seen in Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, Jefferson, and others.”
A sampling of MSFD projects and initiatives to date include:
Safety Cameras, especially in parking areas; $120,000
2021 Challenge Grant Awarded to 1109 Central Ave.; $75,000
Pick It Up trash containers; $10,000
The commission of a Downtown Streetscape Master Plan; $60,000
New design elements for alleyway improvements- in process
Large Central Ave plantings; $3,200 annually and decorated seasonally by Pride in Community Appearance (PICA)
Lunch on Central
Fencing Grants; $2,500 annually
Merry on Main/Small Business Saturday; $2,200 annually
IGNITE Entrepreneurial Series; $2,000
Redesigned parking initiative; $2,200
Downtown Country Jam Sponsor; $750
Building Design Assistance for two downtown properties:
Access Audio (500 1st Ave. S); Free- provided by Main Street Iowa
Dodge Graphics (419-429 1st Ave S); Free- provided by Main Street Iowa
Trolley Center (904-920 Central Ave); Free- provided by Main Street Iowa