With the city government's decision not to fund the effort to seek a Main Street Iowa designation for Storm Lake, the chamber of commerce will drop its application to the program, chamber officials announced this week.
Instead, the chamber will spend the next year in an all-out effort to create an irresistible Main Street application for 2003-2004, chamber CEO Chris Nolte said.
"The city chose not to fund the Main Street request due to their budgetary constraints, and we can appreciate that," he said. "It is absolutely imperative that the city must be a partner in the effort for our grant application to have a chance to succeed. Leading up to next year, we will use the time to educate the city council and the city staff on why this is such a viable program for Storm Lake to help us renovate our downtown area."
The delay may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Chamber officials have recently learned that state budget problems may cripple the program this next year, causing Main Street Iowa to accept only one or two community applications, as opposed to up to five in previous years.
Main Street Iowa provides expert assistance in renovation and preservation of historical buildings, as well as economic revitalization assistance. The program was considered as the top goal of the chamber this year prior to the city council's decision not to fund the chamber request.
The months ahead will be used to prepare a very in-depth application for 2003-2004, including exacting studies of historical facades, square footage, valuation of the properties and potential for developing a "second-story" upscale residential neighborhood downtown.
"Enhancing the second floor living possibilities downtown is a real opportunity, and could be very important to the renovation process and very good for Storm Lake," Nolte said.
Unlike most communities, Storm Lake's original downtown structures have survived fire and development, and are mainly intact under the modern retail facades. Chamber inters have already completed photo cataloguing of the historical architecture, which will help to create a more realistic chance of being accepted in the Main Street Iowa program a year from now.
It may be best to take the extra time, rather than rush in an application this year which could fail in a very competitive situation made worse by the state budget cuts. "The state is rightly going to look for bang for its buck, and it will choose the community where it thinks the investment will do the most good," Nolte said.
While time eventually becomes an issue as buildings deteriorate or historical elements are lost in remodelings, there is no dire threat to the downtown's historical assets that would make a year a critical setback, chamber officials believe.
The community is also very supportive of its downtown, which will help the process when the time comes, Nolte feels.
"To put the situation in context, we get a lot of calls from people who are concerned about the development at the north end of the city [where a Super Wal-Mart is in the planning stages]. These people are concerned about the health and future of our central business district. We agree that we need to re-emphasize the heart of our community. That is not to detract from the merchants who are supportive who are located away from the main downtown area, but I think a lot of people recognize that the central business district is vital to the future of Storm Lake."