Vision for the future

Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation donates $100,000 for downtown master plan

CONTRIBUTED GRAPHIC This aerial graphic includes the entire tornado impacted area and the approximate planning area in red. The green identifies the opportunity zone, an IRS designation for preferential tax treatment, which is important to the master plan development process. That zone includes all area east of Center Street and south of Main Street, in census tract 9509.

Rehabilitating the parts of Marshalltown impacted by the tornado will be a complex project, taking years to complete. Some community leaders are backing a long-term vision for bringing back downtown.

The Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation’s board unanimously voted to give $100,000 to the City of Marshalltown to help cover the costs of developing a master plan for rebuilding the devastated areas.

“This is a planning or visioning process. It’s not actual construction or engineering design work; it’s really to look at that whole downtown, in a large sense, that whole area, and what we envision for us moving forward as a community,” said Michelle Spohnheimer, the housing and community development director.

While the project is in part based on tornado recovery, it also could have a larger impact.

“It’s going to make it much more attractive for investors and developers who want to come to the downtown district,” said Karn Gregoire, executive director of the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation. “They’ll be able to see this larger plan we have in place. It’s also going to enhance the probability of getting future grants, not just from the Martha-Ellen Tye Foundation, but as you put out grants to the state and historic preservation places, if you can demonstrate this is part of something much bigger, you’ve got a better chance of getting that grant.”

Spohnheimer said the project will mainly encompass the downtown TIF (tax increment financing) area, focused on commercial property, which also may include multi-family housing. In addition to these funds, the city has applied for a grant from the Economic Development Administration.

“They are working on their review right now; they understand the timeliness due to the disaster and where we’re hoping to go. It’s a revolving timeframe grant, so it’s not like it has an application deadline and you have to wait,” Spohnheimer said.

Gregoire said financially contributing to a master plan perfectly encapsulates the vision of its founder.

“Martha-Ellen’s dream for her foundation is to help Marshalltown prosper and grow,” Gregoire said. “Our community is in crisis. We need that long-term vision and planning, and so I pulled together an emergency board meeting of the foundation and presented the situation, what the city needed (speaking with) City Administrator Jessica Kinser. I reached out to people throughout the state who have dealt with these disasters — talked a lot with folks in Cedar Rapids. What did you do? How did you do it? What did you learn?”

The project will be city-administered with the help of a steering committee.

“Once we have the final notification on the additional grant dollars, then we will go out to request qualifications from professional planning and architect groups, and they’ll submit those,” Spohnheimer said. “There will be public engagement with business owners, residents, community members, employees, etc.”

Even if the city does not receive the $100,00 EDA grant, the master plan will go forward. However, having a sum of $200,000 would expand the scope.

“We had just been looking at the Main Street District,” Gregoire said. “(This) would expand it and give us more details and renderings, and the public engagement piece of this, I believe, is going to provide therapeutic value to our community to be able to voice and share our hopes and dreams for our downtown district.”

In 2006, the city, in partnership with the Marshalltown Central Business District (MCBD), completed a downtown development plan. From 2006-2017, close to $100 million in improvements were made to the downtown district.

“Certainly, the tornado had an impact on that work, and this just gives us a new opportunity to redevelop,” Gregoire said.

Spohnheimer said one of the things the grant wanted to focus on is Marshalltown’s opportunity zone because that is part of the eligibility. That zone includes all area east of Center Street and south of Main Street in census tract 9509.

An opportunity zone is “an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment,” according to the IRS. An area qualifies as an opportunity zone if they have been nominated for that designation by the state and had the nomination certified by the IRS.

“The city had a census tract that was designated an opportunity zone earlier in the year, and so the EDA is able to look at that as kind of a catalyst for redevelopment and how to use that zone to help spur job growth and retention — so that’s a big piece of that funding,” she said.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com