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“Blueprint Emmetsburg” Outlined For City Council

By Staff | Apr 29, 2010

Blueprint Emmetsburg is a downtown assessment that is coming to town in June.

Emmetsburg Chamber Director Katie Kahler, Emmetsburg Retail Association co-chairs Deb Hite and Laura Blanchet, and Community Developer Steve Heldt presented an overview of Blueprint Emmetsburg to Emmetsburg City Council Monday night.

“The downtown assessment was commissioned by Emmetsburg Retail Association, an arm of the Chamber of Commerce,” said Kahler. “The downtown assessment process costs $2,500. The Retail Association raised 10-percent of that and got a grant from Palo Alto County Gaming Development Corporation for $2,250, so the study is paid for.”

The downtown assessment will be held June 22 and June 23.

The Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED) says that each community is unique in its priorities and challenges. Realizing that, the IDED resource center has developed a tool for existing communities with downtown development known as a downtown assessment visit.

“Four areas of economic development activity implemented must be addressed in order to increase the value of the downtown,” Kahler told the council. “The assessment team consists of two downtown assessment professionals working together to develop observations and recommendations based on these areas: physical, for the design of our downtown; social, how we promote downtown; economic, business improvement downtown; and political, organizational structure of downtown.”

She explained that a typical downtown assessment includes:

Day 1 – tour the downtown communities, visit local businesses, and hold interviews with city officials, development groups, members of the community, and representatives of community groups. In addition to the walking tour of downtown, Steve Heldt and Deb Hite will take the team on a drive around to show them the bigger amenities of town and projects the community is still working on, to give them the overall scope of Emmetsburg.

Day 2 – The interviews continue. Time is reserved for a work session for the team to begin outlining its observations and recommendations. An evening meeting is held the last day where the team shares its preliminary observations and recommendations for the community. This is typically a public meeting, inviting the entire community.

“We already have the college auditorium reserved for June 23 to go over the recommendations that the team has for us,” said Kahler.

The downtown development professionals will work together to formulate a comprehensive written report following their visit.

“In the end, we’ll get a study that tells us what they think we need to do with our downtown, what direction we need to go, what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are – but they also say obviously an assessment visit cannot come up with a comprehensive plan to solve all of the downtown’s challenges in just two days,” said Kahler. “But it does provide recommendations for the local communities that are focused specific to the community’s downtown and can be realistically implemented in a year or two. So that’s exactly what we’re looking for out of this downtown assessment.”

Kahler noted that what the community gets at the end of two days is a multi-pronged approach to downtown: local awareness; education; sharing resources, with opportunities for additional help; recommendations, which are very specific; as well as general thoughts and priorities which are starting points.

“We’ll also have empowerment,” said Kahler. “We’ll have IDED as a resource. They’ll be teaching local people how to take the first step.”

Kalher stressed, “It’s important to thin of this study as an outsider’s perspective. When we live here we don’t necessarily see what can be improved on downtown because we’re so close to the situation.”

Sustaining momentum is one of the challenges. “It’s easy to get everyone on the same page in the beginning, but once the glitz is gone, what do you do?” asked Kahler. “Steve (Heldt), Deb (Hite), Laura (Blanchet) and I have been meeting for the past month to talk about ways to sustain this project. We’ve come up with ‘Blueprint Emmetsburg.’ It’s kind of an idea for projects citywide.”

She pointed out that there are many things going on in Emmetsburg and only a few people know about them. She cited everything from trails to the proposed community center to things that are happening downtown.

“We thought ‘Blueprint Emmetsburg’ would be a good way to get a snapshot of what’s going on community wide. But it’s also a way to see what’s going on next  year, three years, five years or ten years from now. And it’s sort of a way to financially plan out our projects so we can give ourselves a little heads up before it becomes an emergency.”

Acknowledging that no one knows what the outcome of the downtown assessment will be, Kalher noted that some of the projects may require funding. Now would be a good time to set money aside so improvements can be made.

Talking about the interview process, Kahler said people wonder what they are going to be asked. “They want you to give your gut response and give an open, honest answer because that’s the only way they can gauge what life is like here in Emmetsburg.”

Deb Hite told the council that the Retail Association has always chosen to be positive and forward thinking. “Blueprint Emmetsburg follows along these guidelines,” she said.

“We want to ask you (City Council) to partner with us in two ways,” said Hite. “Please make yourself available for the interviews. We will be scheduling appointments with all of you to come and meet with the group. Also, come to the public meeting and see what they have to say about the community.”

Hite’s second request was for funding. “We’d like to ask you for some finances to help us sustain the momentum that we will have going,” she said. “We request funds in the amount of $10,000 form the City Council. That will allow us matching funds so we’ll have some founding to go forward.”

“This is not a scary thing,” Kahler stressed. “Business owners should not be concerned. You should not be scared. It’s not somebody that’s going to come in from out of town and tell you what to do with your business and how to do it. It’s just an outside perspective. It’s an opportunity. It’s a good thing.”

“Could we count on you for some financial report?” asked Hite.

Heldt noted that at the last council meeting, conversation came around to the $10,000 the council had set aside for The Storm.

“We could discuss that money being earmarked,” said Heldt. “Those founds have been there since 2008.”

“Our goal is to have matching funds for the next grant season,” said Kahler.

“We’re making you aware of the fact that we’d like to have you put $10,000 aside in the future,” said Heldt. “We’re here to request it, give you time to think about it, and at a later date come back and see what you’ve decided. It doesn’t have to happen tonight.”

Heldt also pointed out that they keep referencing downtown assessment. “We’re talking about the whole community,” he explained. “When we say that, we’re talking about outside the city limits and how the schools function, too. We use the term downtown assessment because that’s what IDED calls it. It’s an assessment of the entire community and they’re focusing on the downtown area. Every store owner everywhere in Emmetsburg will participate.”