Monticello downtown assessment: Part 1

On Oct. 29, about 15 people were in attendance for the downtown assessment community input session. Several topics were covered regarding Monticello’s downtown district, and those present offered ideas for the future as well. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

This story is part of a three-part series showcasing a recent downtown assessment program for the City of Monticello. 

Last week, Oct. 29-31, five professionals from Des Moines spent some time in Monticello to provide a different perspective of the downtown. 

After Monticello was unsuccessful in its Main Street Iowa application, the committee suggested the downtown assessment program for Monticello as a way to accomplish some projects before the next MSI application. 

Those who took in the sights of downtown Monticello included: 

• Jim Engle, director of the Iowa Downtown Resource Center 

• Robin Bostrom, business specialist with Main Street Iowa 

• Jeff Geerts, special projects manager and community development with Iowa Economic Development 

• Sarah Grunewaldt, Main Street Iowa director in Washington, Iowa 

• Dennis Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Urban Design 

Based upon Monticello’s MSI application, the Downtown Resource Center offered the city a downtown assessment for just $1,000. 

Knowing the issues Monticello was already facing, the assessment team, explained Engle, was chosen to combat the various facets. 

“We have team members with comprehensive backgrounds in design, marketing, Main Street Iowa, “said Engle. 

Jones County Economic Development Director Derek Lumsden sent out a pre-visit survey to everyone in the Monticello community, seeking input before the assessment team arrived. The survey results were briefly shared during the public meeting on Oct. 31. 

Downtown’s Greatest Strengths 

• Longevity and variety of businesses 

• Architecture/historic buildings 

• Pocket park 

• Small-town friendliness 

• Walkability 

• Personal buying experience 

• Hardware store and Theisen’s 

If you could change one thing… 

• Clean up building exteriors, run-down buildings (Compadres, Dollar General) 

• Fill empty storefronts, better window displays 

• Improve parking 

• Improve pedestrian experience (art, sidewalks, music, etc.) 

• More variety of businesses 

• Thursday night shopping and companion events 

Downtown makes me feel… 

• Safe and at home 

• Warm and welcoming 

• Sad 

• Good 

• Like small-town Iowa still exists 

• Proud 

How I want downtown to make me feel 

• Exciting, vibrant, upbeat, exhilarating, active, thriving, lively, revved up, night life 

• Welcoming 

• Inviting, warm, inviting no matter who you are 

• Bustling with open businesses, holiday decorations, busy and rich in history, full 

What would improve the business climate 

• Nicer looking buildings, highlight architecture with lighting, fix windows 

• Fill void of old Dollar General, fill buildings 

• Open longer hours 

• More parking 

• Greenery, sculptures, better curb appeal 

• More relevant stores and restaurants 

• More events 

Once the assessment team arrived, they spent touring downtown Monticello, mostly First Street, visiting with business/building owners, city officials, and various groups and organizations in town. They also spoke to youth as well to get their perspective of downtown Monticello. 

Aside from bringing a few high school students into the council chambers to meet, two of the assessment team members spoke to the social psychology class at the high school, too. 

“We often hear (from the youth) that there is nothing to do,” said Engle. The good news here, it was just the opposite. 

Two public meetings were also held, one in which the public provided input on downtown Monticello. 

Throughout the three days the team was in Monticello, they spoke to over 100 people. 

“The survey results produced some red flags,” said Engle. “So we asked questions (of the community) related to those red flags.” 

For example, they spoke to some local banks about the possibility of building owners acquiring loans to improve the condition of their buildings. 

All five team members will pull their final reports of downtown Monticello and present a comprehensive report to the city in roughly six weeks. 

“The beauty is after we leave,” hinted Engle, “different organizations here will get together and talk about the issues.” 

If the city is in need of further assistance in carrying out any projects, Engle said the team or individual members can return to offer professional advice. 

“We can facilitate any project, small or large,” he said. 

Overall, the team felt Monticello had unique architecture throughout its downtown, something that could be capitalized on. Engle said some of the buildings also need a lot of maintenance work. 

“We heard a lot of complaints about the vacant buildings,” summarized Engle. “But despite that, you do have a decent mix of businesses. There’s a good starting point here. You’re in a good position to grow.” 

He said it’s also important for Monticello to grow its downtown second-story residential spaces. 

The team urged Monticello residents to just walk around the downtown, taking in the buildings, businesses, and future ideas and expectations.

“Some times people live here so long, they don’t see things,” said Engle.


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