Burlington, Iowa

Iowa | 2004 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 5/10/2004

As a river port along the Mississippi River, steamboats once graced Burlington’s riverfront. As a transportation and trade hub, Burlington became a center of legal and business services, but its true economic boom coincided with the birth of the Burlington Missouri & River Railroad Company which spurred rapid growth from 1850 -1900. Over one hundred years later, sprawl, suburban malls, and the construction of the highway which demolished nearly 100 businesses and historic homes, caused the city’s decline. By the 1980s, the Hotel Burlington, once considered the finest hotel in the Midwest, closed along with the theater and most of the retail shops in the commercial district.

Burlington’s downtown, located in a natural amphitheater on the Mississippi, boasts architecture that largely reflects Burlington’s railroading past. Seeking to rejuvenate their once beautiful, vibrant city, community leaders applied and won acceptance in the first round of Main Street Iowa designations and today the grim, aluminum covered storefronts; and vacancies are a thing of the past. With Main Street Iowa’s guidance, the community formed public-private partnerships, recruited hundreds of volunteers, empowered downtown business owners, and launched community initiated investment.

Since 1986, Burlington‘s downtown has seen 376 building rehabs, 189 new businesses, and 441 jobs and innovative projects that have spurred business growth including Burlington’s virtual online shopping district with 20 stores online. The Main Street organization, Downtown Partners, Inc. (DPI), teamed up with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and formed the Southeast Iowa Entrepreneurial Center in 2002 which houses new small business in the former Schramm’s Department Store. Over the past 18 years, more than $28 million has been invested in downtown buildings. Projects range from multi-million dollar redevelopments, such as the adaptive ruse of Schramm’s as condominiums and offices and the Hotel Burlington as 75 units of mixed income housing for seniors, to more modest projects like the Drake Restaurant, once a riverfront warehouse that with a $100,000 loan from the Main Street revolving fund and the work of volunteers and business leaders is now a upscale eatery and a sterling example of community initiated development.

Downtown Burlington has made great strides, not just by reclaiming its buildings and recruiting new businesses, but also by promoting downtown as a center for celebrating community. From the Snake Alley Criterium bicycle race, which draws thousands of spectators, to the expanded Farmers Market, they have fashioned an outstanding about-face in the appearance and perception of downtown.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded Burlington, Iowa, a 2004 Great American Main Street Award and announced the award on May 10, 2004, at its annual National Main Streets Conference held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Other 2004 Great American Main Street Award winners are: Encinitas, California; Paso Robles, California; Rogers, Arkansas; and Westfield, New Jersey.

For more information about Burlington, contact Downtown Partners, Inc. at (319) 752-0015, val@downtownpartnersinc.com, 610 North 4th Street, Suite 210, Burlington, IA 52601, or www.downtownpartnersinc.com.