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Downtown sees fresh investment, growth

Public and private projects planned

February 3, 2013
By BILL SHEA, , Messenger News

The top floors of the old McQuilken Building in downtown Fort Dodge have been unused for 30 years.

Rich Seltz, of Fort Dodge, hopes to fill those floors with something someday.

He and his wife, Jo, recently bought the edifice in the 800 block of Central Avenue and have been awarded a $50,000 state grant to help pay for starting the process of restoring it.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Jo and Rich Seltz pose in front of the McQuilken Building in the 800 block of Central Avenue in downtown Fort Dodge. They plan on renovating the five-story structure.

Restoring a structure that was built at about the time of World War I is likely to be one of the most visible private investments in downtown Fort Dodge in the near future.

It will also be yet another sign of renewed economic activity in the city's core.

''We've got a lot of good traction, a lot of new businesses starting,'' said Jim Bird, a business owner who is the vice chairman of the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District.

That district is a roughly 33-block area in which property owners pay an extra tax to finance improvements there.

The district's leadership and city officials have been chipping away at a list of recommended changes included in a downtown plan adopted by the City Council in 2008.

That plan included 34 specific recommendations for action. Stephanie Houk Sheetz, the senior city planner, said 26 percent of those 34 recommendations have been implemented.

''It is a plan that SSMID is following very closely to make sure that we stay on track with these 34 initiatives,'' said Rich Seltz, who is the chairman of the district.

Establishing a historic district downtown was one of the major accomplishments, according to Sheetz. The district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in November 2010 following a major effort by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, she said.

That listing now makes property owners eligible for tax credits for building restoration and improvements.

''That makes projects more appealing to different people,'' Seltz said.

Other downtown plan recommendations that have been completed include:

The downtown plan also called for setting up a comprehensive parking management system. That ultimately led to the return of parking meters to some downtown streets. Revenue from those meters helped to pay for the reconstruction of a parking lot at First Avenue North and 10th Street last year.

''That's the showcase of what the meters are there for,'' Sheetz said.

She said that was the major physical improvement downtown in 2012.

Other improvements included repairs to brick pavers throughout downtown and the installation of sidewalks and landscaping near the Fareway store at 12th Street and First Avenue South.

The crosstown connector plan would create a major change in the downtown by linking First and Second avenues south near Fourth Street. The project was expected to start in 2012 with the reconstruction of First Avenue South between Eighth and 10th streets. After much debate by the City Council that project was postponed.

Other infrastructure projects will go on, however.

This year, First Avenue North between Third and Seventh streets will be rebuilt in a project estimated to cost $1.8 million. The project will include total pavement reconstruction, sidewalk replacement and installation of new water mains, sanitary sewers and storm drains. Construction is slated to start in April 2013 and be completed by the end of October.

City Engineer Chad Schaeffer has said that he will ask the City Council to consider converting all of First Avenue North to two-way traffic after the project is done. It is now a two-way street between Third and Seventh streets. Between Seventh and 12th streets it is a one-way street with all traffic heading east.

While SSMID has supported construction projects, its leaders believe it takes more than fresh concrete to make the downtown attractive.

In 2012, the district started a program to place flower pots in front of businesses that agreed to participate. They replaced flower baskets that hung from street lights.

Seltz said 50 flower pots were distributed around downtown. The program will be repeated this year, he added.

Last year was the second year that Market on Central was held on Saturdays in the spring, summer and fall.



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