To increase foot traffic and develop a more vibrant community, the city of Marion is constructing several mixed-use buildings — for businesses and residential living alike — that will connect to a new, shared plaza. The projects, titled Broad and Main on 6th and Broad and Main on 7th, will function similarly by providing housing […]
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To increase foot traffic and develop a more vibrant community, the city of Marion is constructing several mixed-use buildings — for businesses and residential living alike — that will connect to a new, shared plaza.
The projects, titled Broad and Main on 6th and Broad and Main on 7th, will function similarly by providing housing on the upper floors and restaurant and retail space on the ground floor. In addition, these buildings will connect to the adjacent historic commercial district and City Square Park.
Sitting in the original central square will be the plaza area, set to be completed by late 2023.
The massive transformation spells the end for the former strip mall and parking lot that once stood in its place and harkens back to a different era.
“You know, I’m sure it was very successful in the ‘80s because that’s when that type of retail was successful, but it’s not a good use for a downtown anymore,” said Mark Seabold, lead architect for the project.
Renovating the space is a couple of decades in the making, said Marion Planning and Development Director Thomas Treharne. Local officials recognized a change to the area would be necessary, but few proposals, one of which would’ve located a library on the site, got off the ground.
This Uptown living community is already being constructed on the street level on Seventh Avenue. According to Mr. Seabold, it will help the city organically create the additional density necessary for fostering a healthy space between business and everyday people of all ages.
With the addition of the Uptown project, the city hopes to spur activity to existing businesses while providing efficient spaces for new businesses.
“They’re called micro-retail spaces, so they’re not overly large suites or storefronts,” said Nick Glew, president of Marion Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO). “That’s kind of acknowledging the trend in retail today. Retailers don’t need as much square footage as they used to.”
“I think when you look at development across the country, you notice people wanting to live downtown in denser settings,” he added. “People want to be close to the action where there is stuff for everybody.”
All these improvements are designed to improve the walkability of the surrounding area. In addition, the new buildings and plaza will be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, said Mr. Treharne. Although pleased with the plans for the entire area, the crown jewel of the Uptown Marion development, he believes, is the plaza.
Between 10th and 12th avenues, the city has reduced the number of travel lanes to two lanes of traffic. The curbs were also removed, so there is no longer a curb line.
“This will provide the opportunity for the street to be closed down at times,” he explained. “So maybe for a farmer’s market on Saturday morning, Seventh Avenue between 10th and 12th is not even available. And then you could have it all walkable. It’s just more pedestrian-friendly. This is made to be walkable and accommodating for events like Friday night concerts where they can shut the street down and provide flow to the businesses that will have just opened in the area.”
While long-term payoffs are evident, there are challenges small businesses must face until construction is completed.
“It’s just that it came at a really tough time for businesses that were barely hanging on after COVID and the derecho,” said Mark Readnour, owner of Iowa Popcorn Company located on 10th Street. “My clientele is mostly older. If there isn’t an open parking spot in front of the store, they’re not as likely to stop. So I’m worried about that.”
Although the ongoing construction has not yet made its way to his storefront, he expects more difficult challenges in getting customers through the door next year when construction moves closer to him. Now, stores like The Marion Chocolate Shop, Scoopski’s Uptown Creamery and the Iowa Magic Shop are harder hit by the construction.
Still, Mr. Readnour is optimistic that Marion’s changes will leave the city in good shape. He mentioned he has traveled to a couple of places where the project’s lead developer has worked in the past and believes if the Uptown Marion one is similar, then it’ll be “pretty neat.”
That developer is Mark Kittrell, the CEO and co-founder of Eagle View Partners. Mr. Kittrell has done several projects in other cities, such as Cedar Falls. These types of projects are more successful, in his experience, when the developer seeks to collaborate on his vision for development with the community rather than forcing his ideas.
“I think a lot of times developers get a bad reputation for being in a hurry and coming out with a plan that’s not fully formed,” he said. “We did an awful lot of listening to the community through listening sessions and conversations so that this would feel complementary to the area.” He’s also on the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board, where he says he can be actively involved with current and future businesses that come through the area.
For Kelsie Hoth and her business, Frydae, a street fries and ice cream restaurant located on 10th Street, she’s hopeful people will be able to locate her business through a back entrance on her building. Regardless, she’s confident the Marion developments, particularly the new plaza, will be a huge boon for the community once all construction is finished.
“I actually sit on the Uptown board of advisors, so I get to hear about construction updates and some of the things that are moving along,” said Ms. Hoth. “I know the projects on track for completion, which is kind of unheard of for construction projects.”
“I think it’s all going to be worth it in the long run,” she added. “It’s just going to be a cool new vibe up here.”