On the rebound

Downtown repairs slow, but steady

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ - Repairs and renovations to the tornado-ravaged downtown have been slow, but steady, according to the Marshalltown Central Business District, which has been connecting building and business owners with resources since the storm.

Detours, construction zones and blocked roads and sidewalks in the downtown have created challenging conditions for businesses and their customers. Since the July 19 tornado, the Marshalltown Central Business District has been working with building and business owners to help them reopen and thrive.

“Since the tornado, we’ve met with over 60 building owners, and a lot of them have plans for restoration projects that have already begun, but they’ll really start in force in the spring,” MCBD Director Jenny Etter said. “It’s been really hard for building owners to get quotes from insurance companies. That’s a long, hard process and some of the appraisals that were done initially didn’t end up being correct, so it’s just been a long process of getting information and working with structural engineers and insurance companies.”

Etter said around 15 buildings in the downtown have been or will be lost to demolition, with two to three more still being evaluated.

“We never want to lose a building, but these were not safe,” she said.

Six months after the devastating tornado, the downtown is on the rebound.

“All of the restaurants in the downtown that still have buildings are open now, and they raised the bar in making a lot of great improvements,” she said.

Some of those improvements were made possible by a tornado relief fund set up by the MCBD. Donations, which have poured in from across the country, are in excess of $78,000. A total of $38,000 of that has already been allocated, with the remainder still available.

Each recipient will receive up to $2,000 intended to help supplement money from insurance providers. Various applicable projects may include but are not limited to awning replacement, sign creation, washing the building, replacing a window, a paint job, etc.

Twenty-two businesses have already benefited from this fund. Applications are available online at www.marshalltownmainstreet.org or by phoning the MCBD office at 641-844-2001.

Help from Main Street Iowa

Architect Martha Green, who is based in Des Moines, has been working with the MCBD to offer Marshalltownians free consultation services through Main Street Iowa.

“We’ve been meeting with different property owners trying to access their needs,” Green said. “My role is to try to come up with ways to fully use the buildings. (Marshalltown) for some reason has buildings in the downtown that are half-used. The thing that helps me here is I’ve been involved in a lot of historic tax credit projects.”

So far, Green has met with 16 different building/business owners of varying needs.

“She is trying to help them understand where the gaps are between what insurance covered and what it would take to make downtown a place people will want to come to,” MCBD Board President Nate McCormick said.

Green creates artist sketches and written reports to show building and business owners a variety of restoration options, bearing in mind cost constraints, while still staying true to historical authenticity.

While some downtown businesses have relocated elsewhere, including to the Marshalltown Mall, Etter said many owners have told her they intend to eventually return to the downtown.

Grants through the city are available and McCormick said more are soon to come open at the state-level.

“It’s all about matching the need to the right program, because the requirements vary with the grants,” he said.

Etter said there is a catalyst grant through Main Street Iowa she is hoping to obtain.

“We’re looking to have several projects — grouping three or four buildings together. For instance, if they need sprinkler systems, etc. so second-level housing could be added,” she said. “It is about supporting projects that will bring in more revenue for them. Even before the tornado we needed more housing, and now we need it more than ever.”

Downtown designated for endangered property program

Marshalltown’s Downtown Historic District is one of seven properties across the state designated by Preservation Iowa as the 2019 Most Endangered Designations.

Preservation Iowa’s Most Endangered Property program was started in 1995 and was implemented to educate Iowans about the special buildings and historic sites that are slowly and gradually slipping away from us. In the past 20+ years, Preservation Iowa has designated over 150 homes, churches, archeological sites, landscapes, commercial buildings and a variety of other properties.

The Most Endangered Properties program helps to bring to the public’s attention the risks to a designated historic property and introduces owners of an endangered property to preservation advocacy and resources that can help preserve their historic property. Additionally, there have been interest groups who have been able to use the designation as a mechanism to leverage other financial resources to restore and preserve properties. For more information about the Most Endangered Program, check out Preservation Iowa’s website at www.preservationiowa.org or contact Preservation Iowa at info@preservationiowa.org.

Impact in Marshalltown

The Marshalltown Downtown Historic District encompasses the 200 block of East Main to 100 block of West Main, and side streets from Third Street to Third Avenue from Church Street to State Street. The historic district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and is a representative collection of the commercial architectural styles and vernacular building forms that appeared in Marshalltown from the 1860s through the 1940s. Since 2002, 25 buildings in the downtown historic district have received new facades, building code upgrades and entire building renovations with over $100 million dollars invested.

On July 19, 2018, an EF-3 Tornado devastated the historic downtown. Over 95 percent of the buildings in the district suffered significant damage to roofs, windows and store fronts. As a consequence of the wind and rain in the days following, building interiors were damaged as well and inventories of many businesses were lost. It is estimated that up to 13-15 buildings were totally destroyed by the storm.

The storm’s devastation will continue to have a profound effect on Marshalltown’s downtown but has also raised a new awareness of the historic architecture, character and importance of downtown to the community. The Marshalltown Main Street program has been working closely with Main Street Iowa and the Iowa Economic Development Authority to provide preservation-based technical assistance to downtown building/business owners as well as creating financial incentives to help offset the cost of rehabilitation. The city has also received funding to develop a Master Plan for the downtown.