WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Fort Madison Leaves Main Street Program; Pushing Local Downtown Promotion

Jan 16, 2019

Fort Madison has again left the Main Street Iowa program, which works with downtown businesses in the state. Those behind the change hope it will result in a stronger, more cohesive downtown district for the community.

Fort Madison was one of the first cities in Iowa to receive the designation of a Main Street Iowa community in 1986. The city gave up that designation a few years later due to dwindling interest from local businesses as well as a struggle to meet financial requirements.

Main Street was replaced in Fort Madison by Riverfront Business District (RBD), a local, non-profit formed to help promote the city’s downtown district. RBD led the way in those efforts until 2009, when there was a push to rejoin Main Street Iowa.

Fort Madison remained a member of Main Street for nearly a decade, until late last year when the Board of Directors for Fort Madison Main Street voted to cut ties with the statewide organization. A letter detailing that decision was sent to local business owners by Stephanie Knoch.

Knoch chairs the RBD Board of Directors. She previously chaired the Board for Fort Madison Main Street.

“The last few years has been a struggle to maintain the requirements placed on [Fort Madison Main Street] by Main Street Iowa (MSI),” wrote Knoch. “Budget requirements, travel and fees, board members, coordinators etc. After a lengthy conversation between MSI Director Michael Wagler and our local board, a decision needed to be made to either remain with MSI and identify opportunities to comply with their requirements or jump ship and revert back to RBD. Although not an easy decision, the decision was made by the Fort Madison Main Street Board of Directors to cut ties with Main Street Iowa and revert back to Fort Madison RBD.”

Knoch said recent successes downtown ($650,000 façade improvement program, $4.2 million upper story apartment rehab projects, and upcoming $1.5 million sidewalk replacement program) were not directly related to Main Street Iowa. She said the two MSI-backed grants Fort Madison applied for did not come through.

“Doing this move brings with it a need to ‘rebrand’ ourselves as well as regroup and look at how we go about representing the District,” said Knoch. “We are looking for new board members to help direct this restructuring as we will virtually be starting from scratch for not only board members but also members of committees that will be identified.”

“We have an opportunity to make this what we want, so now is the time to step up to the plate and make Fort Madison’s downtown a place people will want to come and spend the day, relocate/expand a business, take up residency, invest. If we want the District to be successful, we all need to do our part.”