Main Street celebrates 10 years

By David Hotle, The JOURNAL


In 2018, Main Street Washington celebrates its 10th anniversary as the economic development organization was first established in 2008.

?We are very blessed in this community that we have people who value their downtown, who want to see it grow and want to have it continue to grow and are willing to reinvest in the community,? Maion Street director Sarah Grunewaldt said. ?Main Street is proud to be part of that investment and we are looking forward to the next 10 years and beyond of having a main Street program in this community to keep building and keep growing.?

In February, 2008, a group of interested citizens presented at the at the Iowa Department of Economic Development offices with the goal that Washington would be selected to become the next Main Street community in Iowa. The group was competing against six other Iowa communities for the distinction. At the time, Washington had been investigating becoming a Main Street community for about two years. A delegation of about 23 people supporting Washington squeezed into the narrow conference room that was right upstairs from the Main Street Iowa offices. Then Sen. Becky Schmitz had attended to show support, as well as Washington County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Miksch and Washington Mayor Rick Cicalo.

In March 2008 is was announced that Washington had been selected to become a Main Street community. People who had contributed to the 2008/09 budget for the fledgling organization held a meeting to create committees. During the application process, the committee collected $100,000 in donations from individuals and businesses for the first year?s budget. During the annual Chamber WEDG banquet the following month, Iowa Downtown Resource Center Director Thomas Guzman praised the efforts of volunteers and local leaders for helping to make Washington a Main Street community.

The Main Street Iowa program is an economic development tool that promotes development from the center of a town outward. State incentives to improve the downtown areas of a community include free architecture work and advice on promotion.

In April 2008, the committees chose the first director for Main Street Washington. After being out of the Washington community for about eight years, Amy Vetter, formerly Amy Rich, returned to serve as Executive Director. During the year, many of the mainstays of Main Street Washington began, including having Main Street Iowa architects study and improve facades and the beginning of the ceremonial SWEEPs for new downtown businesses. It was also the first year Main Street Washington hosted the lighted parade the day after Thanksgiving.

Main Street Washington only just had its first birthday this year when it received honors during the 22nd annual Main Street Awards Ceremony for best committee notebook project, best building rehabilitation for the Bryson Block, and best holiday event for the annual SNOW (Showcasing Nights of Washington). Later in 2009, Main Street Washington unveiled a day of celebration called ?Celebrate Your Senses,? which later became ?Celebrate Washington.? The day was put on hiatus last year. During the state award ceremony that year, Main Street Washington won awards for two projects it: the sidewalk SWEEPs and the Slow Down and Savor Washington promotion. The Washington Free Public Library was recognized as the ?Best New Development? in the state. The Village, located on the west side of the square, was awarded the ?Best Business Success Story.? The late Mary Ann Drain was posthumously given an award for being an ?Outstanding Volunteer.?

When the contingent from Main Street Washington attended the annual Main Street Iowa awards celebration on April 1, 2011 the first hint that Washington would be greatly honored was that the Washington table was close to the stage.

As the evening progressed, presenters made the comment that the Washington group should just leave someone on stage. At the end of the night, Washington had won the best public improvement project for the municipal bandshell; best design committee project for the Washington Structural engineer evaluation; and best facade improvement over $15,000 for the Bodywrx Fitness Center. Washington was also honored for completing its third year, which director Amy Vetter said means the program has completed its infancy and is ready to move ahead. The 2008-2010 board of directors were honored with the volunteers-of -the-year awards. Vetter received an award for two years of service. The Washington Incentive Fund (WIF) won the Best of the Best award.

In 2012, Main Street announced it would discontinue the running of Ridiculous Day in Washington due to lack of interest. When that happened, area business owners stepped in to take over the event.

Later in 2012, Vetter announced that she planned to take a job at the Washington County Hospital and Clinics. Grunewaldt, formerly Sarah Sadrakula, was hired to take the role of executive director. She holds a master?s degree in historic preservation.

Since then Grunewaldt has begun several new events, including biannual fashion shows, a new wine tasting event, and several new economic improvement programs.

?Over the last 10 years, design-wise, we have helped with over $9 million worth of projects in the downtown,? Grunewaldt said. ?About $320,000 of that is through our Washington Incentive Fund that we have been very fortunate the Riverboat Foundation has given us. Some of that is the Challenge Grant projects we have done. He had three projects since 2008 and they total about $225,000.?

Grunewaldt said many events would be held this year to celebrate the anniversary, but a calendar has not been published yet.