A headline in the June 11, 2014 Cascade Pioneer stated, “Funding, time needed for downtown revitalization.” Five years and numerous grants and programs later, the city’s downtown looks much different than it did and paints a more welcoming face for visitors to Cascade, as well as potential business owners.
But there is still more that can be done to attract businesses that may be considering opening in town, and people who are thinking about moving to Cascade and making it their home.
The Cascade Area Chamber of Commerce (CACC) and Cascade Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) hosted a housing and downtown revitalization training session at Fidelity Bank & Trust Aug. 22. The session was the latest in a series conducted by the two groups.
Jim Thompson, from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, was the guest speaker. He shared a PowerPoint presentation with about 25 attendees, and also shared a handout listing more than 20 incentive programs that are available for business and community economic development.
Some business owners have already taken advantage of some similar programs, and the positive effects have been noticeable.
“I was even talking about this before coming in today,” said Molly Knuth, a member of the CEDC board of directors. “I was just walking through downtown because I had a few extra minutes. Just seeing the increased traffic going through downtown and seeing the number of cars along Main Street, people are stopping and visiting places that four years ago may not have been stops on their route.”
Brad Ludwig, CEDC board president, said the visible enhancements paint a picture of pride, both in the respective business and the overall community. “I feel like the property owners are taking pride in their existing buildings and they’re reinvesting back into (them), and it benefits the residents and the community as a whole.”
According to Ludwig, the perspective with which visitors and potential business owners view the community has changed as well. “Five years ago, when you saw a business come through the community they’d say, ‘It’s a nice community, but your downtown needs help.’”
Ludwig said the focus has now gone to the riverfront and the newer buildings, the quality of which has improved substantially. “We’re starting to get more positive feedback,” he said.
During his presentation, Thompson stressed the importance not only of knowing what grants are out there but also the importance of available housing in the downtown community.
“I think a big thing is utilizing spaces and places that we already have, too,” said Knuth. She pointed out examples Thompson shared of small towns that began with one building, which later extended to the whole downtown.
Ludwig feels it’s vital to share the success stories, to encourage more of the same. “Going forward, it’s leveraging those existing buildings that are success stories, and making sure that message gets out there to other property owners downtown,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but there’s still room for improvement.”