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Guide the Future of Downtown Jefferson

By Chris Henning, board president, and Alan Robinson, program director, Jefferson Matters: Main Street

The future of downtown Jefferson is the topic of a community-wide meeting on Tuesday, May 7, in the upper level of City Hall. The meeting is sponsored by Jefferson Matters: Main Street and will be facilitated by staff of Main Street Iowa.

This Visioning meeting offers residents of Jefferson and Greene County the opportunity to decide how they want their downtown to develop over the next 10 years. The input from this meeting will, in turn, help guide Jefferson Matters: Main Street as the organization uses local, state and national resources to bring this vision to fruition.

At a recent gathering of nearly 100 Greene County residents to discuss the future of the county, a number of great suggestions were made for enhancing downtown Jefferson, which as the county seat serves as the hub for residents of Greene County and adjacent counties.

One suggestion is a chef-driven restaurant that would attract patrons from a wider area than our current eating establishments. Also known as a “destination restaurant,” it would feature locally produced ingredients and white table cloths.

Another great idea is to develop a branch campus location of an area community college. Steps have been taken in that direction with the creation of welding classes to be taught by staff of Iowa Central Community College this summer at Greene County High School. It would be great to see ICCC establish a location downtown that would offer two-year degree programs in growing career areas in health care; alternative energies like wind and solar; culinary arts (building on the hugely successful Ram Restaurant program); and architecture, carpentry and design to support the Main Street renovation efforts.

Downtown Jefferson boasts an impressive array of late 19th century and early 20th century architecture that reflects the growth of early Jefferson in the 1880s and 1890s and the transition from railroading to auto travel and the ensuing development of the Lincoln Highway. Yet we do not have an antique store, which is surprising since the handmade furniture of the 1870s era (RVP 1875) is such a draw for visitors and tourists. Authentic replication furniture of the mid-1870s seems such a natural stepping stone to authentic Victorian era furniture of the decades that followed.

Jefferson and Greene County have long embraced the arts and cultural amenities. The Greene County Arts Council has morphed into Tower View Team: Wait Til You See, looking at art in public spaces. So the downtown atmosphere is conducive to an art gallery. In fact, we already have two significant performing arts spaces (Prairie Blue and History Boy), so why not two or three galleries?

This is the key to Visioning—using our existing assets to develop more assets and to fill in the gaps in our downtown where they exist. Considerable planning is underway now to develop a Welcome Center within the proposed Thomas Jefferson Gardens. This will greatly enhance efforts to draw visitors and residents to Jefferson and Greene County.

Greene County personifies “green” technology with a major biofuels plant and three wind farms, but no plan exists to make our downtown buildings green and sustainable. Let’s discuss at Visioning how to rehabilitate our historic buildings while making them eco-friendly with green roofs, geothermal heating and cooling systems, and maybe even incorporate solar panels into the mix.

The future will be here sooner than we realize considering that Hy-Vee will build a new 32,000-square-foot supermarket just two blocks north of the downtown district. Part of the store’s parking lot will actually front Washington Street, next to the Greene County Extension Office. Construction is slated to start in the fall with completion in early 2014. Traffic generated by the new Hy-Vee makes North Vine Street and North Wilson Street strategic transportation corridors linking the store to Lincoln Way and our downtown shopping district.

And Hy-Vee is known for bringing in organic and local produce and food products—another boon for our communities.

Downtown is not at a standstill by any means, but clearly we have challenges. New ideas are needed as we plan for the future of downtown!

What types of stores and services do you feel we need?  What are your hopes, plans and aspirations for downtown Jefferson? What tiny seed of an idea have you had tucked in the back of your mind? Bring it to our Visioning meeting on May 7. Be a part of the process by going to jeffersonmatters.org to RSVP for either the light supper at 5 p.m. and/or the meeting at 5:30 p.m. at jeffersonmatters.org.