Main Street at The Alley

Mahaska Community Recreation Foundation Director Sherry Vavra speaks with Missouri Main Street directors during their visit to Oskaloosa.

OSKALOOSA — Oskaloosa Main Street was one of five communities chosen to show off their designated downtown areas to a group of local Missouri Main Street Program Directors.

The tour consisted of 40–50 directors that were interested in seeing how other Main Street programs creatively used downtown buildings, incorporating art in public spaces, upper level housing, partnerships.

Oskaloosa Main Street Program Director Emily Brown was thrilled that Oskaloosa was selected and hopes that the directors leave viewing Osky as a model downtown area.

“I hope it means that people are looking at what we’re doing here and they see it as a model,” she said. “In the Main Street world when we go on visits to other communities we’re always on the lookout for ways to R&D, rip off and duplicate. We don’t recreate the wheel because our community is really a lot like a lot others, so if people want to come to our community and see what we’re doing here it means that we have things that are working and they want to try and recreate those activities, those initiatives, those projects in their communities.”

Among those in attendance on Wednesday was the Missouri Main Street State Director, Gayla Roten, and the President of the Board for the Missouri Main Street Program, Steven Hoffman.

Over the course of the visit, Roten recalled how amazed the program directors were with the commitment that City officials and Brown put into investing in the city.

“The commitment of the Board of Directors and the commitment of the director here is fantastic. The Board of Directors coming out and meeting us, then the director taking us on the tour was phenomenal in itself,” said Roten. “We can see that they’re invested here emotionally, as well as financially and that makes all the difference. We learned about how they have renovated their second floors. Some are renting, but some have purchased buildings. So what they’re teaching and trying to get other people to do, they are actually doing it themselves. They are leading by example.”

President of the Board for the Missouri Main Street Program, Steven Hoffman jokingly said the directors wanted to smuggle the city’s developer back with them to their retrospective cities.

“I can tell you that they want to take this developer and smuggle them back into their own community,” Hoffman said. “It really is about the people that make that investment in the downtown area that really step out ahead and say, ‘hey I’m going to invest in upper floor housing.’ It’s one thing to have the buildings, but you really need the people who have the heart and the commitment to do something with them and it’s really inspiring to see that.”

Oskaloosa Main Street has been around since 1986 when community leaders and the Chamber and Development Group decided that there was a need to pay more attention to preserving and revitalizing the overall health of the downtown area. Although there are Program Directors like Brown that oversee Main Street, Brown accredits a lot of what happens with Main Street to volunteers and people in the community.

“So there’s always been a director for the program, but a lot of what happens with Main Street is with volunteers,” Brown said. “We really have kind of a 360-degree focus on the health of downtown, so the aesthetics, the community sense of downtown and physically with the buildings. I don’t know that main street is solely responsible for anything, but we have been a driving force behind most of the things that happen downtown.”

Brown recently became the Director of Oskaloosa Main Street and she credits previous directors for a lot of key features that really make Downtown Oskaloosa unique.

“The director before me was a huge piece of creating The Alley, creating events like ‘Christmas in July’ and putting the lights up on buildings.”

Overall, the trip was a success as directors left Oskaloosa impressed and inspired.

“Having people in the community that are able to take the lead on some of the problem projects, really kind of demonstrates that you can be successful with them, I think it’s really inspiring.” Steve Hoffman said. “We’ve been impressed from the moment that we got here.”

Tiffany McDaniel can be reached at tmcdaniel@oskyherald.com or on Twitter @tmcdaniel_osky

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