Jefferson Matters: Main Street recognized at state ceremony
By AUDREY INGRAM
DES MOINES — In the 28 years Iowa has had a Main Street program, the return on public investment has been 87 to 1 — $87 invested by private businesses and organizations for every $1 of state funding.
On Friday night, Main Street Iowa — a branch of the Iowa Economic Development Authority dedicated to providing resources for communities to grow local economies — recognized leaders, projects and volunteers of local Main Street organizations for their efforts to use “preservation-based” strategies to promote healthy downtown districts and recruit new businesses.
Jefferson Matters: Main Street was recognized for reaching the $2 million private investment mark in only its second year of operations.
The Jefferson organization was also recognized in the image category for its “Play Me Pleez” public art work project, implemented by volunteers on the Tower View Team. Its goal is to provide and promote art within the community.
The “Play Me Pleez” project was made possible when high school music director Becky Greiner donated her personal piano to the organization. The piano was then sanded by Chuck Wenthold’s high school shop class and painted by Kathy Hankel — also recognized Friday as Jefferson Matters: Main Street’s volunteer of the year.
The piano was left outside on the Square and invited people to step up and play music. Though it was left outside day and night — Bell Tower volunteers covered it with a tarp in the evenings — it was never vandalized, said Amy Roberts, a member of the Tower View Team.
The project was deemed a success, bringing attention to art and to the organization, said Deb McGinn, also an organization member.
The piano now resides at Homestead Bakery.
Presenting the honors in the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in Des Moines were Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham.
Branstad first proposed the Main Street program in 1985, during the heart of the farm crisis, recognizing the organization not as a short term fix, but an agent for change — the true impact of which he never imagined, he said.
Nearly three decades later, the organization boasts 52 designated Main Street communities that have supported 4,200 business starts or expansions, resulting in the creation of 12,300 jobs and $1.3 billion in investments into downtown districts across the state — the direct result of the “passion, dedication and commitment” of local leaders, Branstad added.
Sen. Tom Harkin also spoke at the event, commending the state legislature for funding an additional $1 million in challenge grants for the upcoming year, citing downtown renovation as a “catalyst for positive change.”
The challenge to keep Iowa prosperous is about the economy, but also about identity, he said.
The Main Street organization is in a “class by itself,” he added, “touching communities and people in concrete ways.”