I, like many of you this holiday season, spent time decorating and sprucing up my house for the holidays. It was a frenzy but the food, decorations and laughter of my grandchildren was certainly worth it all! As our homes are the center for celebrations, gatherings, and development of families so too are the Downtown Districts of our communities. We hold town celebrations, parades, build small businesses and watch the families of our community grow and develop. We each have a story of special events from our childhood, including a favorite ice cream stop, and other traditions. This is our past and our future.
In Forest City, the City recently completed a Downtown Improvement Project. I was often asked why should we put State and Local funds in to private buildings – they are just old buildings. I’ve repeated the answer quite often that “Our downtowns are the living room and front porch of our towns. It’s where we celebrate milestones, large and small, welcome people to our community and conduct business.”
The investment in improvement, to at least the fronts, of these buildings is an investment our past and our future. Historic buildings are the gemstones of our downtowns. Our project utilized a $500,000 Grant from IEDA’s Downtown Revitalization Fund to improve buildings in our Downtown. This was increased by 50% from The City of Forest City and a local Foundation.
The primary improvements were tuckpointing, window and door replacement, new awnings and even the complete restoration of a building’s tower. Iowa’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) was extremely helpful in making sure all of the construction designs maintained the historic integrity of the buildings.
The most unique part of the project was the replacement of a copper dome on the tower of the 1894 Bank Building that leaked and had, regrettably, been painted with blue water tower paint in the 1980’s. We literally have a shiny new penny glowing in the middle of downtown!
The results you may ask? This project improved 17 buildings and gave our Downtown a needed boost. We have several new businesses opening in the improved buildings – not necessarily a direct effect but a welcome side benefit.
This is not a project for the faint of heart. It has a great many moving parts and as we all know; construction is not always fun. Our businesses and citizens were quite patient through nearly 9 months of inconvenience. I applaud IEDA and the City of Forest City for their vision and investment in Historic Buildings and Downtown Development.
Come visit us in our Downtown and see the improvements. We’d be glad to welcome you during our town celebration, parades, show you our businesses and introduce you to the families of our community. We’ll meet you by the building with the new Copper Dome!
Beth Bilyeu, Executive Director, Forest City Economic Development