Monticello looks toward future with downtown, MSI

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

While Monticello was not successful in becoming a Main Street Iowa Community, there is hope moving forward with the city looking to apply again in two years. 

Michael Wagler, state coordinator with Main Street Iowa (MSI), met with Monticello’s Hometown Pride and Main Street Iowa committees last week on Sept. 20 to discuss the MSI board’s findings and recommendations moving into the future. 

There were 14 people present for the meeting, each having a hand in the application process earlier this summer. 

Four communities applied for the MSI designation, with two being selected: Nevada and Coon Rapids. 

Monticello scored a total of 76.57 out of a possible 100. Wagler said the top two communities scored in the upper-80s. 

The judges’ general comments included many positive reactions: 

• Monticello has a great downtown district and a great deal of potential for future downtown revitalization efforts. 

• Many assets in the community. 

• Monticello appears to have generated good, local support. 

• Goals were practical and achievable. 

• City is fully committed to the Main Street effort. 

• Good mix of downtown business types. 

The low scores were generated from a low budget, and the city’s underestimated downtown revitalization potential (as spelled out in the MSI application). 

“The main piece that it came down to was the competitive nature of this round,” said Wagler. “There were four very competitive applications. Because of our budget constraints, we only have the ability to take two communities.” 

Wagler said the committee’s low budget and broad-based support are areas where some improvement could be made. 

“There was a lot of verbal support communicated during the presentation,” explained Wagler. “But when you looked at the application, both from the budget, from the investor list and from the 11 letters of support (out of a total of 30), the advisory council looked at it from the application standpoint, and there was not a significant amount of community support presented.” 

He said the lack of letters of support led reviewers to ask, “Why?” 

Additional support could have brought Monticello’s score up to a competitive level. 

In working on more of an accurate budget, Economic Development Director Derek Lumsden said Monticello’s MSI budget was around $45,000. The other communities demonstrated between $80,000 and $100,000. 

“Those two elements (budget and letters of support) were the game-changing elements,” reiterated Wagler. 

Everyone agreed that had Monticello had more time on the application and presentation process, it could have been a winner. 

“That was our challenge from the beginning,” said City Administrator Doug Herman. “The fact that the application got done and we put a presentation together, the fact that we did what we did, I was very happy with because of where it’ll place us next time. People who are supporters of Monticello were quite sold. We will be better suited next time.” 

Chamber Director Jan Hoag inquired about Monticello having a downtown historic designation, and whether that would help in a future MSI application. Wagler said that designation doesn’t necessarily come into play when applying. For instance, Coon Rapids is not an historic district on the National Register, but Nevada is. 

“Often times, is not an indicator of ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” added Wagler. “We have about a quarter of our MSI communities now that have districts that aren’t even considered eligible for listing on the National Register.” 

However, he said through Monticello’s application and photo submitted, it was made clear that downtown Monticello is, in fact, historic. 

“You just haven’t gone through the process of being designated,” said Wagler. 

So how can Monticello enhance its downtown while pursuing the next round of MSI applications? 

One, have a downtown assessment scheduled. That item can be checked off the to-do list because representatives from the Iowa Downtown Resource Center coming to Monticello Oct. 29-31 to do the assessment. They will hold community meetings and visit with several downtown business/ building owners. There will also be a community survey e-mailed out yet this month to get community input on downtown Monticello. 

“That team will do a full-scale assessment of the existing conditions of downtown Monticello and really focus on the next steps,” Wagler said. 

Two, have an action plan. 

“Those successful communities have taken advantage of some sort of planning process related to the downtown,” added Wagler. 

Three, bring community partners together and continue the MSI conversation. 

“That will build a lot of synergy and awareness that you’ve already started to build,” Wagler said. 

“What can you do within the next 12 months? Not just for a really good MSI application, but to really make a difference in downtown Monticello,” he concluded. 

There will be two up-coming community meetings the public is invited to attend: 

• Tuesday, Oct. 29, 6 to 7:30 p.m. The goal is to bring community members together that may not be involved in the rest of the MSI assessment. 

• Thursday, Oct. 31, noon to 1:30 p.m. This will be the report-out meeting. RSVPs will be required as the date approaches.


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