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State Center, Iowa, Makes 'Remarkable' Transformation

by Staci Owens, Main Street Iowa Special Projects Intern

During the past six years, residents of State Center have expressed a renewed enthusiasm for their Main Street community through the renovation of numerous downtown buildings. 

State Center, Iowa's rose capital, has participated in the Iowa Department of Economic Development's (IDED) Main Street Iowa program for eight years. Working closely with the professionals at the Iowa Downtown Resource Center, State Center has applied for and received special funding, referred to as Main Street Challenge Grants, which helped ignite the rehabilitation process. 

One block of Main Street is home to 13 historic buildings and is known to townspeople as "Remarkable Row." After receiving a little tender loving care, the Mitchell Family Funeral Home, Watson's Historic Grocery Museum, the R.A. Buck building, and the Bishop building, among others, have been renovated and reborn, creating wonderful opportunities despite the fact that many residents thought each building was past its prime.

The Mitchell Family Funeral Home was one of the first buildings to be renovated, using a $50,000 Main Street Challenge Grant from Main Street Iowa.

Although this property was owned by the State Center Development Association (SCDA), the group's president, Jim Eckhardt, realized it wasn't possible for the organization to pay for and maintain the building to house a nonprofit foundation, which was SCDA's original intent. So, when a private owner was interested in buying it, SCDA accepted the offer. This created controversy within the community. Great pride had come with the restoration of this building. Hundreds of hours in volunteer time have been invested in its rehabilitation, and residents feared that the new owners of the building wouldn't give back to the community as much as a nonprofit foundation might have.

Even though the original plans didn't come to fruition, the property has benefited Main Street. According to Everett Halsted, interim director of SCDA, Mitchell graciously allows the community to use his space for events such as board meetings, quilt festivals, chorus shows, and much more. "Marty is a great supporter of State Center's Main Street and we are really lucky to have him as a part of our town," says Halsted.

Although Mitchell's funeral home was the first building to be rehabbed, the renovation of Watson's Historic Grocery Museum sparked the beginning of Remarkable Row's renovations. With more than a century of service under its belt, Watson's is an essential part of State Center's history. 

With the passing of heir Ralph Watson and his wife Florence in 1989, the community learned that the store was to be sold piece by piece. Devastated by this news, townsfolk were determined to keep this significant hometown treasure in their possession. The city council created the SCDA, and the whole town came together and chipped in to save this important landmark. 

Thanks to the outstanding efforts of the townspeople, Watson's is now owned by the SCDA and operated by the State Center Historic Society, solely through contributions and volunteer hours.  City councilman, Mike Riemenschneider put in hundreds of volunteer hours himself and describes this project as a "labor of love." The museum has "instilled a sense of pride into the State Center community," says Riemenschneider.

Walking into this blast from the past, visitors find food items and glassware set exactly as they were when Watson's was open for business in 1895. The back hallway boasts a gallery of old photos that portray the town's rich history. Watson's is an important heritage tourism asset for State Center, as is Sheppler Barber Shop just a block away. Both are open Saturday and Sunday afternoons from May to September. 

The revitalization of downtown continued when the R.A. Buck building, located at 126-128 W. Main Street, was awarded a $25,000 Main Street Challenge Grant from Main Street Iowa. Both the interior and exterior were rehabbed, and today the SCDA office resides in 126 W. Main Street while 128 W. Main Street is unoccupied at this time. "With these first renovations being such a success," says Eckhardt, "it just snowballed and now Main Street building owners are really buying into the rehabilitation process." 

The Bishop building located at 132 W. Main Street also received a Main Street Challenge Grant of $40,000 from Main Street Iowa. In addition, building owner Jeff Merrill was awarded an H.O.M.E grant of $100,000 through IDED. Merrill is creating space for an office and two apartments. Even though construction has just begun, he has received a great deal of interest for both of his living spaces and with this new and lively downtown, who can blame them. 

Six years ago, State Center's Main Street was on the verge of dying, but with the help of a supportive locally owned bank, countless community contributions, dedicated volunteers, a progressive city council, three Main Street Challenge Grants from IDED, and private investments totaling $4,688,124, this town has been able to enhance its rich history and instill pride in its residents. State Center is a magnificent town, with "remarkable" things to offer.

For more information, contact Staci Owens at Staci.Owens@iowalifechanging.com or 515-242-4759.

 

Scholarship Opportunity for Form-Based Code Classes

The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust is making available scholarships of $500 each for representatives from nonprofit historic preservation organizations or public organizations with oversight authority for historic preservation to enroll in any of three courses offered by the Form-Based Codes Institute (FBCI): Introduction to Form-Based Codes; Preparing a Form-Based Code – Design Considerations; and Completing, Adopting, and Administering the Code.

These multi-day courses are taught by nationally prominent form-based coding practitioners and professionals in the fields of planning, architecture and urban design, and land-use law.

For the course schedule and more information about form-based codes, visit www.formbasedcodes.org. To apply for a scholarship contact Carol Wyant, FBCI's executive director, at carol@formbasedcodes.org or 312-346-5942. If more than one person attends from the same organization, tuition will be reduced from $700 to $650 per course.

 

HOPE VI Main Street Grants

It's that time again. HOPE VI Main Street grants are available! On June 26, HUD released the application for its FY08 Hope VI Main Street grant programs. Four million dollars in funding is available and grants may be up to $1 million. Electronic applications are due August 18, 2008. 

The HOPE VI Main Street program's purpose is "to provide grants to small communities to assist in the rejuvenation of a historic or traditional central business district or Main Street area by replacing unused commercial space in buildings with affordable housing."

The minimum criteria for eligibility are the following:

•  Your city/town must have a population of less than 50,000.

•   Your city/town may not be served by a public housing agency that administers more than 100 units of public housing (if any).

If you are interested, register with www.grants.gov immediately. You cannot apply for funds until the government processes your registration, which could take up to three weeks. Visit www.hud.gov/grants and download the registration brochure to get started. This is important even if you registered last year as registration must be renewed annually.

The full text of the application can be downloaded from the HUD website at http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih/programs/ph/hope6/grants/fy08/. Visit the HUD site weekly and www.mainstreet.org for any updates or Q&As that may be of help.  Sign up at www.Grants.gov to receive automatic HUD e-mail notification of any corrections to the NOFA.

Questions? E-mail Erica Stewart at erica_stewart@nthp.org or contact HUD directly: Lawrence Gnessin at 202-402-2676 or lawrence.gnessin@hud.gov.

 

Have You Signed Up for a Secure Online Contribution Page Yet?

As a member of the National Main Street Network, your Main Street program can set up a secure online contribution page to accept donations or membership dues for free! Hosted on our secure server, your specifically branded page can be reached through a link on your website or in print materials.

As an incentive to join your cause, we offer each new member or donor a complimentary one-year membership to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This service comes at no cost to you or your donors! Your specifically branded page can contain your logo, photos, and text. Each week, you will be notified of any donations that were received so that you can acknowledge your members and their gifts in a timely fashion. Then, once a month you will receive payment for the total donations for that month. The funds can be transferred through direct deposit into your Main Street's bank account, or by check.

Since The National Trust began offering the service in 2006, we have helped historic sites, Main Street organizations, and state and local preservation groups raise more than $40,000 online, greatly enhancing their capacity.  Currently, the National Trust is working with about 50 organizations.

For more information, contact Margaret Gattis at Margaret_Gattis@nthp.org or 202-588-6118. See the following examples of how each page is set up and branded:

•  http://my.preservationnation.org/dnaelgin;

•  http://my.preservationnation.org/tucumcari; and

•  http://my.preservationnation.org/tylertexas.

Also check out the Main Street News article "Ellensburg: 'Word of Mouse' Fundraising" in the Knowledge Base of www.mainstreet.org.