A ceremony was held at the State Capitol Thursday as Governor Branstad announced three communities that have been selected to join the Main Street Iowa program. They are Avoca, Guthrie Center, and Newton. The Main Street Iowa initiative was launched 27 years ago as part of a national effort to revitalize downtowns.
Cities that are chosen for the program receive expert training and technical support in efforts to preserve historic buildings and improve their local economies.
Newton Chamber of Commerce Director Darrell Sarmento says his city has been working on becoming a Main Street community for eight years. “We have a lot of work to do on our downtown. We have a lot of facades that need work, as
well as working with the city to redo some streetscapes,” Sarmento said. “We’re excited about what the future holds and getting people engaged in the process.”
Erin Chambers is Newton’s Director of Planning and Zoning. She believes the Main Street designation will improve “the quality of life” in Newton, possibly leading to a boost in the city’s population. “Newton has been amazingly static since the 1960s,” Chambers said. “We’ve hovered at that 15,000 to 16,000 mark, despite losing a major corporate employer (Maytag) with over 5,000 jobs at it’s height. We’re hoping to move from a stable population to a growing population and we think Main Street is one key to that.”
While Newton is a mid-sized town located in central Iowa, Guthrie Center and Avoca are smaller towns in western Iowa. Ken Laughery, president of the Guthrie Center Revitalization Corporation, is also hoping the Main Street designation will eventually encourage more people to move to the town of just over 1,500 residents.
“That’s one of the struggles we’ve faced over the years is our shrinking population,” Laughery said. “I think (Main Street) will give us guidance and show us some of the things that have been successful in other communities in the past.”
Avoca’s population is similar to Guthrie Center. Avoca’s City Manager Clint Fichter said the Main Street program will help improve the Pottawattamie County town in a number of ways. “The first step for us is we’ve lacked a downtown business organization, so getting the organization up and running, working together better, the joint marketing, and all those things that come with this…and then, planning for the renovation of an historic theater and some other large preservation projects,” Fichter said.
The addition of Avoca, Guthrie Center, and Newton brings the total number of Main Street communities in Iowa to 52.