Main Street redevelopment benefits whole communities

This article from Wednesday's Des Moines Register is worth your time: Grinnell theater renovation sparks projects downtown

Bill Menner, a Grinnell area economic development leader, points to the $2 million renovation and expansion of the city's longtime theater as a turning point.

The 2004 redevelopment of the Strand Theater attracted Washington, D.C., developer Dick Knapp. The 1976 Grinnell College graduate is buying his third building in downtown Grinnell.

The theater project attracted a $7 million investment from the city for new sewers, water mains and streetscape in downtown. It attracted small businesses such as Grinnell FiberWorks, a quilting shop that receives busloads of shoppers.

Redeveloping the theater "got people excited and brought people downtown," said Jim Ramsey, president of Grinnell Private Investment Corp., the group that organized efforts to reopen the theater. "It's hard to find a place to park, even during the middle of the week."

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The theater, owned by 20 investors including former owner Fridley Theatres, "is holding its own" financially. It was expanded from one screen to three with a donated building next door.

Ramsey said it also brings business into downtown restaurants, shops and coffeehouses and has generated excitement about downtown.

Businesses like Fareway rebuilt its grocery store near the city's core. Also, some businesses that located on Iowa Highway 146 are looking to relocate downtown, said Ramsey, president of Ramsey-Weeks, a real estate, insurance and investment company.

Investing in downtown helps revitalize local economies, and renovating existing buildings is more environmentally friendly than new construction at the fringe of town.

The Strand renovation was one of 1000 Friends of Iowa's Best Development Award winners in 2005:

Originally built in 1916, the single-screen theater closed in 2002 and the operators suggested it might be economically desirable to build a multiplex on the edge of town, allowing for more parking than the downtown had to offer. A group of local investors (Strand LLC) were gifted the theatre by its owners, as well as an adjacent building shell (no roof following a 1998 snowtorm).  They committed to creating a three-plex on the site of the theatre plus the adjacent lot.  A local fundraising campaign generated $100,000 to restore the old 1916 façade. The total project exceeded $1.5 million.

The building is a beautiful testament to Grinnell's commitment to maintaining its historic downtown and making efficient use of its existing infrastructure. The renovation is a delightful integration of historic elements with modern technology.

1000 Friends of Iowa is accepting nominations for the 2008 Best Development Awards through this Friday, July 25. Click here for more details about the categories and how to nominate a project.

Click here for information about the Main Street program at the Iowa Department of Economic Development. That page has links explaining some of the benefits of renovating the streets and neighborhoods where our historic buildings are located.

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