Monticello downtown assessment report: Part 1

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

This is a multiple-part series on the City of Monticello’s Downtown Assessment Report, as conducted by the Iowa Downtown Resource Center and Iowa Economic Development Authority. This was a partnership between the city and Jones County Economic Development.

In late October 2019, five professionals with backgrounds in economic development, Main Street Iowa, urban design spent several days in Monticello to collect data and information for the downtown assessment report. They conducted a pre-visit survey of Monticello, with 107 completed surveys. The group also did a walking tour of the downtown, and interviewed approximately 70 community leaders, business/building owners, individuals, and groups representing the public and private sector.

Overall, Monticello wishes to “re-establish itself as the social and commercial center of the community, becoming more valuable physically, economically, socially, and politically.”

Monticello “must strive to make its downtown a ‘go to’ destination, not an avoidable area to pass through to get somewhere else.”

The team commented that in taking the steps to have a downtown assessment, Monticello is poised to take additional steps to address the many downtown challenges.

 During the team’s visit in October, they shared many of Monticello assets, which were compiled through public input meetings.

Community assets:

• Great Jones County Fair

• Riverside Gardens

• Camp Courageous

• Residential pride

• Local school system, Kirkwood Community College

Downtown assets:

• Impressive architecture

• Pocket park

• Public buildings (City Hall, public library)

• Several young business owners

The public survey results were also shared during the input sessions and within the completed report.

One thing you would change about the downtown:

• Clean up building exteriors

• Better window displays

• Fill up empty storefronts

• Improve pedestrian experience

Public amenities needed in the downtown:

• Places for kids

• Street seating

• More parking

• Public art

What business would be most successful in the downtown?

• Food-related

• Something for kids, family entertainment

• Movie theater

• Bookstore

The assessment has been broken into nine different themes: Windows of Opportunity, Community Connections, Signage, Curb Appeal, Upper Story Housing, Vacant Buildings, Business Succession, Event Coordination, and Communication. In addition to the themes, there are also suggested action steps in which to carry out successful projects associated with that theme.

“The assessment team hopes Monticello will assess each recommendation and develop a plan to implement what is right for Monticello,” the team stated.

Theme 1: Windows of Opportunity

“Downtown appearances are extremely important for the business community, downtown residents, and the pride of the community,” the report states.

Some quick fixes include: small façade rehabilitation projects, sign improvements, gardens, or simple maintenance.

The window issue was relayed to the assessment team throughout the multiple interviews, survey, and community meetings.

“Gradual improvements of storefront windows and upper story windows can have a profound effect on the appearance of downtown Monticello.”

The team also noted that there are some businesses that produce very appealing window displays, and some that might prevent shoppers from going inside, the other end of the spectrum.

“The storefront windows are the first point of visual contact a consumer/ pedestrian has with a store. It can increase sales in a big way.”

Action steps:

• Get help from a professional to come in, give a presentation, and actually do several window displays in the downtown.

• Use local talent. Can those who are successful at window displays help those who might need some assistance?

• Seek student help. Use the downtown as a lab for students.

• Develop a citywide window display contest.

• Set a goal for businesses to change their displays with the seasons.

• Keep downtown windows lit at night/on timers. It brightens up downtown Monticello during evening hours. The upstairs windows are also in need of attention. They look dark and unoccupied at night.

• Take a walk and identify trouble spots and work with the building owners to fix the problems. They will be receptive, especially if it doesn’t cost them anything. This could be a project for Hometown Pride.


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