By Krystal Fowler Lifestyle Editor
The Daily Iowegian
---- — Working to improve nightlife on the Square, highlighting entrances to the Square from State and Main streets and improving the one block radius surrounding the Square are three areas that should be focused on according to a downtown assessment team that studied Centerville last week.
Working on these areas and others will help to both sustain and grow Centerville’s downtown in the future, according to the assessment team who presented their findings to interested community members Thursday afternoon at the Majestic after a two day study of the city.
Director of the Iowa Downtown Resource Center Jim Engle and Design Specialist for the Iowa Downtown Resource Center/Main Street Iowa Tim Reinders were the two who completed the assessment and presented their findings in a one hour meeting Thursday.
The duo not only toured the city and the Square, they also conducted numerous interviews with representatives of Centerville and Appanoose County, including members of the business community, service organizations, volunteers, shoppers, rural residents and others.
The duo outlined both the strengths and weaknesses of the city and the downtown area in their presentation.
“If I were to sit down…and came up with a top ten list of things that a downtown has to have to be cool and exciting and successful, Centerville would have about eight of those,” said Engle.
The two areas Engle highlighted that Centerville still needed to work on the most, were a strong neighborhood surrounding the Square and a strong nightlife economy on the Square.
The Square itself was highlighted as a major strength of Centerville, with a good mix of businesses. Finding your way to the downtown area for anyone not from here though, was seen as a problem. And directing people to the Square is becoming increasingly important as the number of tourists and visitors in the county has been growing over the past several years.
“And I quote, ‘I had no idea the Square was here,’” said Reinders. “Somebody told us that who had a visitor come in.”
Engle and Reinders pointed out that there are currently no major indicators to point visitors to the Square at the two major entrances, the intersections of Highway 2 and Main Street and Highway 5 and State Street.
“That’s one of our goals right, to get people from Honey Creek coming here…so you’ve got to give them these clues as to what they should be doing when they get here,” said Reinders.
With the upcoming reconstruction of State Street planned, the duo suggested incorporating a boulevard feel to the street that would help direct more traffic to the Square.
Another weakness of the Square, and a major one in the assessment team’s opinion, was the one block radius around the Square.
“When we talk about the Square, we mean the whole downtown,” said Reinders. “The buildings that face the Square and the Square itself are pretty darn good. The issue is that next little ring around the heart of the Square. That’s sort of the rough edges you’ve got that we really need to work on.”
Bad sidewalks, low hanging limbs that impede walking and weeds growing up were a few of the issues the duo pointed out in the block surrounding the Square.
“I think we focus so much…on the Square itself that we forget about how it interconnects and relates to everything else,” said Reinders.
Concentrating on expanding and improving nightlife in the downtown should also be a focus going forward, according to Engle and Reinders.
“There’s not much going on down here at night and building that nighttime economy is really important for downtown areas,” said Engle. “Downtowns usually have two different environments. There’s a daytime environment and a nighttime environment. Centerville has that same thing but the nighttime environment isn’t working very well.”
Engle said that improving the nighttime economy is never a quick fix and can include many different aspects like getting more businesses on the Square to stay open later, getting more people to live on and around the Square, more evening events being held on the Square, more entertainment options in and around the Square and improving lighting on the Square.
“We heard a lot about people on the lake, tourists,” said Reinders. “When you go some place on vacation or to relax you want to do something in the evening…we want to go out to dinner, we want to walk around in the evening, maybe do some shopping, see a show, some kind of live music…that’s part of what we’re talking about. We want to really try to capitalize on that market.”
Other areas Engle and Reinders highlighted for attendants were how to address parking issues on the Square, how to help business owners address building and facade improvements, incorporating artwork, sculpture and bike racks into the Square, and stitching the Square, the larger city, Rathbun Lake and the country together as one interconnected area, instead of separate entities.
Beyond the physical aspects of the Square, they also addressed how the city and businesses reach out to visitors, including online presences, as well as advertising and marketing approaches for both businesses and tourist attractions as well as the city.
Overall the duo urged anyone who is working on improvements to get on the same page and decide what success looks like and to have a unified message.
“I think if it were us…I’d get in this room with all those groups that have some kind of interest in the downtown and I would draft some kind of vision statement for what you want your downtown to be,” said Engle. “Look for opportunities to work together.”
“It all stitches together,” said Reinders. “It all works together to create an experience…shopping is a social experience too. It’s a way we interact…that’s why you have to sort of create this environment that people want to be in.”
Following their presentation, Engle and Reinders took questions and visited with anyone interested. They will submit a complete written assessment about their visit in the next few weeks.