Partnering to Transform Community Downtowns

November 17, 2016
Architecture Restoration

Historic districts are an important aspect of our cities and towns; helping communities realize their full potential is something we are passionate about.

Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) are a funding mechanism that assists Iowa communities like the City of Adel, the City of Storm Lake, the City of Montezuma and the City of Cherokee in transforming their downtowns into vibrant business centers. The grant, available from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, is a process that starts with the city. 

As the recipient and primary driver of the application process, cities select an architect, work with building owners to gauge interest and work through the rigorous requirements required by the grant. Applications are then evaluated on the following criteria:

  • The project must meet a CDBG national objective;

  • It must be eligible under the CDBG program;

  • Positive impact on the community;

  • Readiness to proceed with the proposed activity and likelihood that the activity can be completed in a timely fashion;

  • Level of community support for a downtown revitalization effort;

  • The degree to which downtown revitalization fund assistance would be leveraged by other funding sources and documentation of applicant efforts to secure the maximum amount of local support for the activity;

  • The degree to which the activity meets or exceeds the minimum building and site design criteria established by IEDA to be eligible for funding;

  • The level of planning completed for comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts.

For more information check out the Iowa Economic Development site.

These projects require extensive teamwork between grant administrators, building owners, city representatives, architects, the State Historic Preservation Office and contractors. The architect’s main role starts after the grant is awarded and the design work can begin. The architect begins with intensive site visits to see where the true needs of each building are. Then, beginning with a town meeting to explain the grant and its parameters, the architects meet one-on-one with the building owners over the next few months to figure out the needs and wants for what’s appropriate for each facade.

For example, the City of Cherokee was a Community Development Block Grant Downtown Revitalization Fund recipient in 2015. RDG Planning & Design was involved from the beginning with the grant application in 2014, and today, construction is underway and will result in changes to 14 downtown buildings. The project spans three city blocks and includes work that ranges from new signage and awnings to intensive repointing and storefront reconstruction. It has great community support, and the townspeople eagerly anticipate seeing the work begin.

These projects are transformative for communities across Iowa, giving them energy and purpose. The excitement connected to the buildings that are participating in the rehabilitation project is contagious, and more often than not, owners of adjacent properties that were once skeptical of the program are often seen sprucing up their own derelict buildings. The enthusiasm is enjoyable for all involved – and not involved – with the project.  New businesses pop up, visitors drive into town to check out the progress, and vacant buildings find new owners. All of these happenings continue to provide more evidence that downtown revitalization projects are some of Iowa’s most economically sustainable initiatives.

Written by Michelle Cunliffe, Architect