Business roundtable focuses on current projects, ways to promote McGregor

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Around a dozen McGregor business owners, city officials and residents gathered for a roundtable discussion at the McGregor Public Library July 13, focusing on current projects in the community, as well as ways to promote all that McGregor has to offer.

Duane Boelman, McGregor’s deputy clerk and economic development lead, spearheaded the discussion. Business owners’ input is a valuable resource, he noted.

“One of the main things is to work with existing businesses, to help them thrive, prosper and grow,” he said. “That’s the best way to attract new businesses, if they see you’re doing well.”

Since beginning his position in February, Boelman said he’s begun tackling several projects, including a downtown building inventory. The city can use that information, he said, to aid prospective business owners looking for space.

Boelman has also investigated development of the riverfront for a hotel.

“There are no ground-breaking things to report,” he said, “but some progress is being made.”

Work is continuing on the Sullivan Opera House (old hardware store). Asbestos was removed earlier this year, and the front of the building is now receiving a fresh coat of pant, with help from Preferred Painters. Boelman said McGregor artist Maureen Wild is currently painting McGregor street scenes on boards that will be attached to the front of the building.

Another project, Boelman said, includes developing a series of hiking trails. One would reach from a wooded area at Ohmer Ridge, off Center Street, up the hill, almost to the top of Eagle Drive. There are also hopes, he said, of someday connecting McGregor with Marquette, as well as to the Pikes Peak trails.

“We can create some nice, fairly long, primitive trails,” he explained, noting that developing a trail head downtown would be especially helpful. “Anything we can do to help people stay downtown a little longer is a good thing.”

Boelman said trail creation was part of the “Great Place” goals McGregor and Marquette developed nearly a decade ago, when the communities received the designation. Other goals included the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre and McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts, both of which have been completed.

In order to remain a “Great Place,” though, said Boelman, the communities must go through a re-designation process.

“We have to put together a whole new package to maintain that and show the progress of our goals, how they’ve evolved,” he said.

After sharing his update, Boelman turned the roundtable over to a group discussion, encouraging attendees to share their ideas for promoting McGregor and highlighting its assets.

“We need to think about the direction we want to go with the town, think about what makes McGregor unique,” he said.

Over the years, Boelman commented, McGregor has become known for its antique shops. 

“Even with the river, bluffs, restaurants, bars, art center, shopping, that image stuck,” he said.

He feels it’s time to diversify that image, showing that McGregor is about more than antiques.

New McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kristie Austin said that antique stereotype could be used to refer to McGregor’s history.

“Why not say the town is the antique?” she wondered.

Diane Malcom, from Rivertown Fine Books, who also works at the McGregor Historical Museum, agreed the community should capitalize more on its history, particularly its historic buildings.

“The community is one of the oldest in the state,” she said. “People just like to walk down the street. They love how we’ve maintained our brick buildings.”

Katie Ruff, owner of By the Spoonful, noted her customers are often curious about the history of McGregor’s buildings. The mother-daughter owners of Paper Moon, Louise and Jennifer White, said they’ve found the same, and even hand out sheets of paper detailing their building’s history.

Boelman suggested utilizing McGregor’s historic walking tour booklet to provide businesses with information to share.

“We know quite a bit about most of the buildings,” he said.

Attendees also felt it was important to draw on the area’s natural beauty.

“Have you ever noticed, you look any direction and always have a good view?” Austin said. “How many places have that? Sometimes, we don’t know how lucky we are.”

Ruff said the visitors she meets are often in the area for that view. Some world travelers make McGregor one of their top destinations in the country, along with the likes of Los Angeles and New York, she shared.

“McGregor is like the Chianti of America,” Jennifer White quipped, comparing the town to the wine region in Tuscany, Italy.

Mark Groom, from Central State Bank, referenced the town’s close proximity to Effigy Mounds National Monument, Pikes Peak State Park and Wyalusing State Park, across the river.

“We don’t hit on that enough. That’s year-round,” and less reliant on the whims of the river, Ruff said.

The river should not be forgotten, however.

“We need to focus on recreation of all kinds,” said city administrator Lynette Sander, “and our connection to the river. We’re right on the river.”

The proposed trail system, Boelman said, which would include what was one of the first roads in Iowa, would hit that recreational—as well as the historical—aspect.

“I think that’s unique,” he shared. “We can use that as part of our history.”

Joan Burns, who, with her husband, splits time between McGregor and Iowa City, said they love McGregor’s close proximity to recreational opportunities and cultural activities.

“We love that it’s all within reach,” she remarked. “You can live, eat and shop in McGregor.”

Boelman said all these ideas play into “The Power of 10,” a concept developed by the Project for Public Spaces that says a great place should offer people at least 10 things to do or reasons to visit.

“I think we have more than that,” he said.

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