Assessing uptown Denison

Jim Thompson and Stacie Hull (center) discuss ideas for revitalizing uptown Denison with Mayor Jared Beymer, Councilmember Corey Curnyn and Evan Blakley, executive director of the Chamber & Development Council of Crawford County the morning of Thursday, August 23. Photo by Gordon Wolf

Jim Thompson, of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and Greenfield Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Greenfield Director Stacie Hull visited Denison in August to begin the process of helping find ways to revitalize the town’s business district.

The process moved forward on October 25 when Thompson and Hull presented a two-page list of recommendations to the city.

The report uses the generic term “downtown” for the Denison business district.

“The downtown is beautiful,” the introduction states. “However, the rest of the community doesn’t reflect the same beauty, nor does it do a good job of communicating that there is a hidden treasure (downtown) in town.”

Denison Mayor Jared Beymer said he thought the report hit the nail on the head.

“They pointed out flaws like lacking a wayfinding system, but highlighted that overall we’re doing fairly well compared to other communities,” Beymer said.

The city is working on some big plans that will take time, he said.

“Next year we’ll take a hard look at evaluating a Main Street program,” Beymer said. “In the meantime the report laid out some simple things that we can act on right away. Small things like bike racks have been overlooked, which is an easy fix.”

The report’s recommendations for revitalizing the business district were broken down into five categories. The following first installment of the story looks at the first three categories.

-Wayfinding, signage, and marketing

Signage indicating how to get to the “downtown area” is very much needed. When we drove “into town” we witnessed several directional signs, but there were none located on the bypass that directed us to Denison. Brown historic downtown signage is available from the Iowa Department of Transportation. Consider placing large signage along major traffic areas (i.e. where Walmart and the truck stop are located) with a picture of downtown on it to entice people to travel into downtown. Consider implementing some of the same design elements along the corridors that lead traffic into town and ultimately the downtown area. When many people think of “wayfinding” – they immediately think of “signage”, but there are many other ways to help people “find their way” to downtown Denison such as making sure all attractions and businesses are listed on and/or have claimed their google listing. Additionally, all of your businesses and attractions should be taking advantage of the free Travel Iowa website.

- Business development

Overall, the downtown business district looks good. We were very impressed. You have a great business mix; many towns would strive to acquire what already exists in downtown Denison. There were businesses that stood out to us on the visit, like Wise Monkey Quilting, Silver Linings, bluespace and Reynold’s Clothing just to name a few. Denison is obviously a regional destination. Make sure your ordinances are business friendly – it is important to set standards, but not at the cost of making it hard for new businesses to start or existing businesses to improve in your community. It seemed difficult to tell whether some businesses were open, be sure that businesses have the tools or provide good examples of how to “look inviting and open” when they are open. It is equally as important to have business hours listed somewhere on the storefront. We don’t necessarily promote “closed signs”. You don’t want people that are in the district outside of normal business hours to see storefronts with signage that says... Closed, Closed, Closed…as they make their way down the street. Instead consider store hour signs or signs that say something friendly/positive like “we’ll be back tomorrow at 9am”. Consider adjusting retail hours so that businesses are open later in order to accommodate those that want to shop or come downtown in the evening. We understand that merchants work many hours; we are not suggesting that they work more – only that they change the hours in which they do.

Read about the other two categories in Friday’s Denison Review.

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