Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs designates Jefferson as an Iowa Great Place


DES MOINES – J-Town continues to make its mark.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs recently announced Jefferson as one of 13 Iowa communities that will receive the state’s support through two creative placemaking programs that put the arts, culture and history at the center of creative community development.
The department designated Jefferson as an Iowa Great Place along with Oskaloosa, Washington and Woodbine, and re-designated Appanoose County/Vermillion Township, Bondurant, Council Bluffs, Malvern, Maquoketa and the Turkey River Recreation Corridor.
The department also designated new Iowa Cultural & Entertainment Districts in Iowa City, McGregor and Winterset.

“The Iowa Great Places and Iowa Cultural and Entertainment Districts form the backbone of our state’s overall community building and tourism strategy,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said. “Each place tells an authentic story, and we’re proud to support their proud community spirit and hard work.”
“These communities are committed to transforming their towns and businesses by growing their creative workforce.” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer said. “These programs help Iowans develop and focus a vision for the sustainable development of their cultural places while generating new economic opportunities. We look forward to partnering with them to make their visions a reality.”

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs designates Iowa Great Places to support new and existing infrastructure that cultivates arts and culture, architecture, business, community diversity, historic assets, housing options and the natural environment in their neighborhoods, communities and regions.

Jefferson joins just 41 other Iowa communities who have earned this prestigious distinction.

“On behalf of Jefferson Matters: A Main Street & Chamber Community, I would like to congratulate the City of Jefferson on this prestigious designation, becoming only the 42nd community in the state of Iowa to be declared an Iowa Great Place,” Matt Wetrich said, Jefferson Matters: Tourism and Events coordinator. “A lot of kudos go to our Executive Director, Beth Vander Wilt; board member Deb McGinn; Vice President, Peg Raney; President, Jamie Daubendiek; and numerous staff from the City of Jefferson and Greene County for their hard work the past few years in helping make this happen. “
Communities that are designated as an Iowa Great Place receive a designation for three years and are eligible for technical assistance and grants for vertical infrastructure.  The program, established in 2005 by Iowa Acts Chapter 150 (Grow Iowa Values Fund Act), provides professional development and technical assistance resources, and competitive funding opportunities for new and existing infrastructure projects included in a vision plan and supported by a mix of partners and strategies. The application process is extensive, which includes an on-site visit.

Forty-two Iowa Great Places communities have collectively received more than $22 million in state support – while leveraging millions more in local investments – since the program started in 2005. Funding for the program comes from the Iowa Legislature through an annual appropriation from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.

Jefferson joins other communities such as Burlington, Marshalltown, Manning, Fort Dodge, Des Moines, Sioux City and Clive. Clive was most recently awarded funding for $75,000 for the Greenbelt bike trail. The monies will go toward new artwork, an outdoor performance space and landmarks. Lake View also received $250,000 this year to help build a new community center. Manning received $50,000 in 2022 for their “Art is refreshing” campaing, which will honor the city’s agriculturral history with a gateway sculpture and interactive art installation.

Jefferson has attracted tourists – and recent statewide tourism awards – by installing several public art projects around the Mahanay Bell Tower, a rooftop art project, and the “Ring Out for Art” sculpture exhibition. Downtown features murals created by local students, painted pianos and award-winning installations in several alleys around the square. Jefferson Matters: A Main Street & Chamber Community will facilitate the new Iowa Great Place project plans.

“As is the case with so much of the success this community has seen in recent years, we must also acknowledge that many, many people, organizations, and businesses contributed to Jefferson earning this designation,” Wetrich said. “The citizens of Jefferson and Greene County have developed a reputation for working together for the greater good of the community. Because of this, we are being recognized all over Iowa and beyond. This newest designation is one more feather in our growing cap of positive momentum.”

The cultural department also designates Iowa Cultural & Entertainment Districts to recognize well-identified, walkable, mixed-use destinations with a high concentration of flagship cultural facilities.
Both designation programs are key components of Iowa’s creative placemaking strategy, which drives cultural community development and economic opportunities across the state.
Arts and culture production accounts for more than $4.5 billion in economic activity, 43,000 jobs, and 2.3 percent of Iowa’s economy and is one of three key sectors that drive regional economies. In addition, more than two-thirds of young people choose a place to live before a job. Amenities and quality of life are key factors in their decisions.

In rural areas, research shows that communities with more arts and design businesses, music venues and performing arts facilities attract more out-of-county visitors, have higher business innovation scores and experience faster population growth.
Both the Iowa Great Places and Iowa Cultural & Entertainment District programs are administered by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The list of new Iowa Great Places and CED designations announced today follows:

Other newly designated Iowa Great Places and Cultural Districts

Oskaloosa’s designation builds on a strong tradition of music and support for the arts. Recent projects include the renovation of Trolley Place, restoration of the McMillen Building, launch of a sculpture tour and preservation of the Iowa Bank Building. Plans are underway for a new studio arts center and an expanded partnership with William Penn University. The Oskaloosa Arts & Culture Roundtable will lead the new Iowa Great Place project plans.

Washington has a proud history of arts and theater, notably the State Theatre, the world’s oldest continuously operating movie theater. The former Graham Opera House was once the site of shows presented by film pioneers Frank and Indiana Brinton. The community is also home to three historic districts, including one that surrounds Central Park. The city of Washington will be the primary coordinator of the new Iowa Great Place project plans.

Woodbine and Willow Lake
Woodbine’s track record includes an iconic artistic grain elevator, historic street lights, the Downtown Sculpture Competition and the CREW Center, a $13 million regional wellness center that opened in 2021. Woodbine was recognized in 2014 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Main Street America for its outstanding downtown revitalization. Woodbine Main Street and Harrison County Conservation will lead the new Iowa Great Place project plans.
Newly designated Iowa Cultural & Entertainment Districts

Downtown Iowa City
The Downtown Iowa City Cultural & Entertainment District is located in the heart of Iowa City and is the hub of the “Greatest Small City for the Arts.” Its 26-block area is easily walkable and bikeable, right at the doorstep of the University of Iowa and headquarters of the UNESCO City of Literature. It includes a National Register Historic District, the downtown pedestrian mall, and a dynamic collection of restaurants, music venues, museums, historic theaters, shops, independent cinemas, galleries, bars, and many mission-driven organizations. More than 8.8 million people visited the district in the past year to enjoy its vibrant cultural and entertainment.

McGregor has a long history of culture and entertainment. Located along the Mississippi River, the district is home to 53 businesses, five public parks and a public garden. A full-service marina, docks and tiki bar line the riverfront, where visitors can peruse an antique bookstore, enjoy several entertainment venues, or shop at the Left Bank Shop & Gallery, which features the work of 76 local artists. Visitors can stay overnight in one of 10 historic buildings and can choose from a log cabin, bed-and-breakfast or an entire home. Riverfront Park provides a sweeping view of the river, and Triangle Park is just one block away in the McGregor Commercial Historic District, home to art festivals, car cruises, the Fireman’s Fish Fry and more.

The Winterset Cultural & Entertainment District is a walkable and accessible 11-block area that comprises multiple cultural, arts and tourism attractions along with green space, murals and public sculptures. It is anchored by the Winterset Public Library, Winterset Art Center, John Wayne Birthplace and Museum, George Stout Marker, Madhaus Gallery and the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and is home to 78 contributing buildings, such as the Iowa Theater, Madison County Courthouse, Iowa Quilt Museum and more.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its divisions – the State Historical Society of Iowa, including the State Historic Preservation Office; the Iowa Arts Council; the interim Iowa Humanities Council; and Produce Iowa, the state office of media production – empower Iowans to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting to the people, places and points of pride that define our state.


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Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161