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Downtown master plan comes into focus

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Marshalltown Downtown Master Plan project manager Bob Kost talks possible changes to the downtown area Saturday evening.

Bike trails, new downtown living spaces, greenery and parks were just a few of the ideas that sprang up this week as design and engineering experts worked on the Marshalltown Downtown Master Plan.

Several of the ideas uncovered during the city’s planning charrette, which began Wednesday, were discussed at a public meeting Saturday evening. Master plan project manager Bob Kost of SEH Inc. said the public’s input has been key in the planning process.

“We’ve taken a lot of deep dives into the physical, political and organizational structure of your community,” he said. “We’re really not proposing or recommending a massive change in how land gets used and how uses are organized. We think it’s pretty coherent and makes a lot of sense.”

Despite some good building blocks, Kost and other design, engineering and marketing experts working on the master plan said there are areas downtown can be improved.

Some ideas brought by public input were adding more upper-story living spaces, looking at past studies done on the area to inform ideas for the master plan and for the city government to show leadership and support for developers looking to build.

One idea that would guide how developers can build downtown would be standards set by the Marshalltown Central Business District.

“There is strong support for preservation-oriented, mandatory historic district development standards,” Kost said. “We also know and see that there is strong support for separate, mixed commercial-oriented mandatory design standards for the CBD.”

Civil engineer and urban planner Antonio Rosell focused on transportation and parking in the downtown. He said one of the goals for the master plan should be to help pedestrians “have the most fantastic experience as they walk through downtown Marshalltown.”

Rosell said one major area for the downtown to grow is in bike trail connectivity. The Linn Creek trail runs south of the downtown, while only one specialized bike path is currently located downtown.

“We want to make sure we are connecting to several east-west and north-south corridors,” Rosell said of the trails.

Roads were another major focus. Rosell said two roads in the downtown, Center Street and North Third Avenue/Iowa Highway 14 support at least 10,000 drivers per day.

He said the one-way roadways of Church and Linn streets have much lower traffic than nearby streets and suggested they could be turned into two-way streets to support more people driving through downtown.

Other ideas presented at Saturday’s meeting where additions like a boutique hotel and a “pocket cottage” residential area.

While the up-front costs of such projects would exceed the immediate value they produce, Kost and his team said monetary support from the city in the form of grants, tax credits and other tools would help such projects.

Adding greenery in the form of miniature parks in parts of the downtown was another idea offered to beautify the area. Full-sized parks were also proposed.

City Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer said a lot of good work was done last week.

“They’ll take back their information that they’ve gathered through these three-and-a-half days, they’ll continue to work on those refinements of different concepts and projects,” she said. “Eventually, come about the end of May, beginning of June, we’ll have a final presentation of the plan and some type of open house activity.”

Spohnheimer said she likes many of the ideas shared in the last several days. She said there have been other efforts to beautify and improve areas of the city, but the July 19 tornado, while damaging, has provided a chance to grow.

For more information on the Marshalltown Downtown Master Plan, visit https://www.downtownmarshalltown.com/