Main Street Iowa is not the answer

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor, 

What is the answer to get retail stores in Monticello back on their feet? 

Retail in small-town Iowa is dying and taking lots of potential income-producing property with it, especially when vacant a majority of the time. One only has to look at the old Dollar General to see it isn’t generating a whole lot for the community or for the owner sitting vacant as long as it has. So what is the answer? 

The city council believes the Main Street Iowa program is the answer. They can turn it over to people who “know” what they are doing and relying on experts makes it easy to say they are doing something. 

In reality, someone else is operating the program and the city is throwing money at it with great expectations, goodwill to come of it. Plans by people with no “skin” in the game tend to be costly and often not very successful. Yes, they have a track record of results; however, a few places with good draws of people will create exceptionally good win-win situations; they will pull a whole lot of other places up that have shown no positive results or very limited positive results. Can a place like Monticello really compare to the “NewBo” district in Cedar Rapids for success? If they have, they probably looked at places cherry picked for them rather than a random look at places in similar situations to Monticello based on distance to larger cities with a four-lane leading to at least two, and with a rural population that is both declining and graying. 

There are answers to generating new interest in the retail space in Monticello, but it is going to take a realistic look at what can be done to make it happen. A large portion of what the Main Street Iowa program does do will put the expense of the improvements on the property owners and the rent will go up as a result. A vacant building with a lower square foot charge should rent quicker than one with a higher square foot rent that looks nice and still has no appreciable traffic would it not? 

Consider the millions of dollars spent to build Westdale in Cedar Rapids when they applied the “build it, they will come” mentality just to discover how wrong they were and still trying to figure out how to make it work. 

Last week’s article in the Express suggested they want community input, but as usual, it comes mostly from mail surveys and controlled questions that really don’t address what people want or don’t want. The face-to-face meetings are primarily to tell you what they want to do and then have an RSVP meeting to tell you that is exactly what will happen! So much for thinking about what comes out of the one face-to-face meeting when two days later comes the final report! Both meetings were so important to them they don’t even include a location for either meeting that happens a month away. What’s the rush? It will be two years before we can re-apply? 

You might also note that the “Main Street Program” had to pick those cities with the most money because the state coordinator said it was necessary, as their organization has budget constraints! I take that to mean if you have money to pay us, we will work for you. How successful that is has little to do with the money, but it insures us we will have a job and you will pay us accordingly! 

Steve Hanken 

Monticello, Iowa 


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