Downtown revitalization efforts enter phase two

Stephanie Vallez · Wednesday, November 29, 2017
The Downtown Task Force is making strides in their effort to beautify our downtown with an application for a federal grant.

The Community Development Block Grant could provide up to $500,000 to give new facades to many of our historic downtown buildings. This grant is managed by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, or IEDA.

Other towns have been able to revitalize their historic downtown buildings with this grant. Bloomfield, Iowa recently benefited from beautification efforts to the downtown facades.

According to Bill Koellner, Wilton is going through the process right now. He think the odds look good for West Liberty.

“We have a 90 percent chance of getting a state grant, a block grant, to redo a minimum of ten buildings, maybe up to eighteen,” he said. “We have 23 identified, it’s a question of how many of those property owners will go with us.”

Mayor Hartman’s Downtown Task Force has been holding fundraising events for some time now, including the Ghost Tour on Halloween weekend, where residents bought tickets to tour some of the downtown area’s most haunted buildings. Koellner says more fundraising efforts are underway.

“This coming year we’re planning on at least four, maybe five additional downtown activities specifically for fundraising,” Koellner said, “Some will be historical, some will not, some will just be fun, like the Ghost Tour.”

Their efforts are starting to pay off. The application process has moved into Phase Two, the part where our team hires an architect to help make plans and diagrams. HBK Engineering will be providing professional grant application services.

If the name sounds familiar, it might be because West Liberty has partnered with their team before.

They worked with our town on last year’s Comprehensive Plan Update, as well as the Housing Annexation Study earlier this year.

According to the project website at wldowntown.com, HBK is “greatly looking forward to working with everyone again!”

Sandee Buysse, Executive Director of We Lead, was happy to share an update on their progress so far. Buysse will be working closely with HBK Engineering throughout the application writing process.

“The next step is to get the architect on board, “Buysse said, “To do the renderings, create the ‘befores’ and ‘afters,’ figure out the scope of each building, and what the costs are, and then we’ll work with the building owners from a budgeting perspective.”

In order to get all the pertinent information to the architect and building owners, buildings needed to be assessed. Building assessment was taking place throughout November.

“Last week, HBK and I went through and did an initial assessment of every single building in our downtown,” Buysse said. “We had to rate them as excellent condition, good condition, fair or poor. The grant money can only be used for buildings that are considered fair and poor and so we’re looking for very specific criteria.”

After a close inspection of the downtown buildings, the team has narrowed it down to 23 potential sites for improvement.

Buysse is excited about restoring the historic facades and all the opportunities this project offers.

“We already have amazing bones to work with,” she said.

Building owners may be expected to provide some funding to add to the grant money, as much as 2 percent of the cost of re-facing their building.

The Downtown Task Force is also planning fundraisers and hoping for private donations as well, but it is expected that the architect will offer various solutions to accommodate differences in available budget size.

Moving forward, building owners meetings are tentatively planned for December and renderings of the potential future downtown are expected to be completed in December or January.

We’ll make sure to keep readers updated as this project continues.
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