Downtown Fort Dodge was very much the heart of the city throughout most of our community's history. For more than a quarter century, however, it has not been the vibrant commercial, entertainment and residential hub it was during its glory years.
Recapturing the past is seldom possible, but plans afoot in Fort Dodge suggest that the city's center just might have a grand future - albeit one that most likely will depart significantly from what made sense during the 19th and 20th centuries.
There are many ways that downtown districts can be made vital. In some communities where central commercial venues have waned, revival of the city centers has been accomplished in part by incorporating architectural masterpieces from earlier days in the plans for tomorrow.
Stately buildings that once were the pride of the city can become vibrant once again if interior renovations are coupled with a restoration of the exteriors to the grandeur intended by their designers. That not only makes those buildings more viable as business or residential locations, but also encourages redevelopment of nearby properties. Some important strides have been made in that regard locally during the last several years.
The renovation of buildings on 12th Street known as Kirchner Square is an excellent example. So too are the transformation of the former Wahkonsa Hotel, Beh Building and Carnegie Library into vibrant apartment complexes. Several of the recent business ventures now underway downtown have made creative use of other historic buildings. Other projects appear to be on the drawing board or are in discussion stages.
The city of Fort Dodge working in harmony with the leaders of the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District and Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance has also undertaken some important work to make Central Avenue and nearby venues more appealing visually. Projects have included fixing crosswalks, repaving streets, replacing benches and trash bins, and repainting street lamps. Revamping signage in the downtown area is also being considered.
Limited financial resources have necessarily made a transformation of downtown slower than some would like. Make no mistake, however, much has been accomplished and sound game plans for the years ahead are evolving.
Recounting to The Messenger some of the progress that has been made, Senior City Planner Stephanie Houk Sheetz recently expressed a sentiment with which this newspaper is in hearty agreement.
"It's exciting to see some of the things happening downtown," she said. "There are a lot of different things happening and in the hopper."