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On Sept. 25, a pair of officials from the state Downtown Resource Center took a walking tour of downtown Riverside.
Lisa Oetken of the Mount Pleasant Downtown Association and Jim Engle of the Iowa Downtown Resource Center brought a critical look to downtown Riverside.
Following the walking tour, the pair met with the City Council and produced a report outlining ideas for improving downtown.
The cost for this was $300.
The tour and report was a well-spent $300 for the city.
Now it is up to the City Council to turn that $300 expenditure into actionable items that will reap big rewards for the city.
Some of the items were easy, such as pulling weeds from in front of buildings.
Others will be more difficult from a political perspective. The report suggested stronger ordinances governing downtown buildings and enforcing ordinances already on the books.
While this sounds easy, it is not. Building owners often protest enforcement of ordinances that require them to upgrade their buildings.
The Riverside council needs to listen to property owners’ concerns, but council members need to develop an action plan for invigorating downtown. That action plan may not be popular with all property owners, but the council needs to consider what is in the long-term interest of the city.
Probably the toughest action will be developing minimum building standards for downtown buildings and then enforcing them.
“It’s really hard to tell in Riverside which businesses are open and which are not,” Engle told the council, suggesting a sign ordinance for the city.
Minimum building standards are important. They are matter of health and safety as well as economic viability.
A woman was killed in a fire in a downtown Riverside building in December 2016. She was living illegally in the building.
Council members need to remember that death when they enact and enforce building standards.
On Oct. 18, The News ran the full report from Oetken and Engle. It offers lots of suggestions. Other towns in the area – Wellman, Kalona and Lone Tree – can use this report for ideas of ways to improve the downtowns in their cities.
The perfect scenario would be for downtowns across the Highway 22 corridor to be vibrant and thriving.