Creative Placemaking

By Amy Kuhlers, IASourceLink, with Zachary Mannheimer, Principal Community Planner with McClure Engineering Co.

Creative placemaking isn’t a new concept, but it is still a notion that is unfamiliar to many community developers.  Per the National Endowment for the Arts, “In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, nonprofit and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city or region around arts and cultural activities”.  One person who has been actively involved in this effort in some of Iowa’s rural communities is Zach Mannheimer, who until just recently served as Vice President of Creative Placemaking with IASourceLink Resource Partner, Iowa Business Growth (IBG).

As this quarter’s theme centers on the effects the cultural movement can have in communities, we thought it fitting to include an update on a few of the creative projects Zack was involved in during his tenure with IBG.  Here are some highlights of projects he worked on in 2016.

Earlham, Iowa

Project: Bricker-Price Building

Objective: Identify an alternate use for the Bricker-Price building, ideally housing a farm-to-table restaurant and event space

Project Budget: $1,500,000

Timeline: March 1 – October 1, 2016


Earlham has long been a rural community of 1,000-1,500 people sitting 25 miles from West Des Moines. Over the last 15 years, Earlham has transitioned from an isolated rural community to one where nearly half of its population commutes into the Des Moines metro each workday.

As Earlham continues to change, and its population becomes younger, the quaint and attractive main street needs to provide other amenities to its residents.  Philanthropist Sharon Krause, who owns Iowa’s first organic sheep ranch outside of town, recognized this and began to investigate a purchase of the Bricker Price building, thinking of turning it into a restaurant that could offer an alternative to the one eatery in town. The building had some businesses in it, and a few residents, but it remains rundown and in need of a new concept.

Their goal was to learn what can go into the building as a viable business, and what the costs and risks are to purchasing and historically preserving the property.


The restaurant business model has been completed and the entity is currently looking for restaurateurs to open the business in late 2017. A full-scale non-profit culinary program has been created to occupy the second floor that will double as event space and work directly with Earlham public schools.

Algona, Iowa

Project: Carnegie Library

Objective: Turn underused Carnegie Library into a community space to attract and retain young people

Project Budget: $750,000

Timeline: March 1 – December 1, 2016


The Carnegie Library has been underutilized for over a decade and it sits one block south of the main street. A local business owner recently purchased it and plans to restore the building.


They created 3-year pro-forma that turns the Carnegie Library into the Carnegie Center for the Arts with a plan to open in late 2017. The space will feature Algona’s first professional art gallery space and host numerous cultural performances spanning several disciplines throughout the year.

Fort Dodge, Iowa

Project: Warden Plaza Hotel

Objective: Identify an alternate use for the 260,000 square foot, vacant building in downtown Fort Dodge

Project Budget: $60,000,000

Timeline: April 1 – October 1, 2016


The Warden Plaza Hotel has been largely vacant for over two decades. Nearly an entire generation growing up in Fort Dodge have always known this building, right in the middle of downtown, to be nothing but an eyesore. In interviews, several longtime residents have likened the Warden to the decline of the city over the last several decades, similar to many other rural areas around Iowa.

At the same time, over the last few years, a committee of Fort Dodge leaders have been working to build a new state-of-the-art Recreation Center in downtown. Issues with acquiring the right land and raising the $20,000,000+ to accomplish this have stalled the project, yet enthusiasm and passion for the project remain strong.

Separate from this, there is a strong arts community in Fort Dodge and the surrounding area. Over 30 arts-based non-profits exist in the region, all of which work closely with the Fort Dodge Arts Commission. The Commission and non-profits do good work but lack the necessary financial means to have a greater economic impact upon the community.


They created a 3-year pro-forma to condominimize the first two floors of the Warden to become a brand new non-profit overseeing a Recreation Center and Cultural Center, along with serving as the landlord for a new restaurant and retail. By working in cooperation with the City of Fort Dodge, they secured a developer from Kansas City who will own and operate the building and turn the upper six floors into 80-90 market rate-housing units in a $60,000,000 project.

*includes successful Aureon Ripple Effect grant for $5,000

While the total economic outcome of these creative placemaking examples may not be realized for some time, it’s clear that projects like these add to community ownership and pride, and are one more mechanism to inspire hope for future growth and sustainability.  Late in March, Zach moved from Iowa Business Growth to McClure Engineering but will continue to envision more projects in his new creative placemaking role.  If you’d like to hear more insight on how creative placemaking can benefit Iowa communities, read this recent interview Zack provided for Paste Magazine.

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