The third and final installment of the Chamber’s “Why Marshalltown?” lunch and learn series concluded for Marshalltown’s summer interns and new hires on Tuesday at Mama Digrado’s Pasta & Pizza.
This event included a roundtable panel discussion led by Chamber President/CEO John Hall, Kyle Hall, the Chamber’s Workforce Development Coordinator, Amber Danielson, the Marshall County Arts & Culture Alliance Executive Director, Deb Millizer, Marshalltown Central Business Executive Director, and Michelle Spohnheimer , Marshalltown Housing and Community Development Director.
Aside from the lunch, John Hall posed questions to Danielson, Miller and Spohnheimer regarding various topics including ongoing community projects, downtown development plans, upcoming events, future plans for the community and why Marshalltown is a great place to work and live.
When asked what she is most proud of or energized by, Danielson explained how she is focused on supporting and promoting arts in the community. The most evident example comes from the vibrant murals painted on buildings and various locations. The Arts & Culture Alliance has installed over 20 murals in the past year and a half, and this was made possible by the silver lining in the clouds regarding the tornado that hit four years ago.
Not only destruction was left in its wake, but also the availability for new mural canvases and the urgency to bring beauty, vibrancy and hope back to the community. As the murals are catching the attention of onlookers and artists, there are hopes of reaching 30 murals in just over two years. So far, 12 to 15 local and out-of-state artists have participated in the mural program.
Miller initially drew a blank on pinpointing what she is most proud of or energized by from her standpoint, but her highest hopes lie with the momentum for downtown development.
“The value of downtown is the heart of the community. It is not only the heart of this community, but it’s also the heart of the county,” she said. “If our downtown is strong, then the rest of our community is strong as well. This community is on the cusp of some really awesome things.”
She is also proud and proud to have partnered with the Veterans Affairs office to get 124 military veteran banners for those who have connections to the Marshalltown community. While Marshalltown is a large veteran community with the Iowa Veterans Home located here, Millizer was proud to celebrate national pride and build relationships with community members last year at the Memorial Day service in front of the courthouse, which is still being rebuilt.
Bringing back Bee Ridiculous Day for the second straight year also has Millizer excited, and it will kick off again this Saturday from 10 am to 10 pm This year, there will be food trucks, a concert, bags tournament and kids’ games. The concert will take place from 5 pm to 10 pm. with a beer garden and more things to increase community quality of life.
Spohnheimer, who has raised almost $30 million in grants total for the city, was not hesitant about what she is most proud of and energized by as the Housing and Community Development Director.
“Sometimes the really cool s*** that John is so excited about only happens because I tear down the really crappy s***,” Spohnheimer said in jest as the audience bursted into laughter.
Having suffered destruction from the tornado and derecho, Marshalltown has a number of downtown buildings in poor condition that property owners abandoned, leaving the city responsible. However, this has created great opportunities to rebuild and create new attractions.
Fliers were passed out to attend interns and new hires for an online survey, inquiring about opinions regarding what should be established in Marshalltown in light of the new downtown development opportunities.
There will also be community visioning opportunities during Bee Ridiculous Day, where people can voice their opinions and reimagine what they would like to see the developing spaces turn into down the road. While they emphasize that no suggestions are too radical, the Chamber and the city do not want to use development efforts for parking lot space.
John Hall and Spohnheimer are also working with the Environmental Protection Agency and received a grant for brownfield properties that can be difficult to redevelop or use due to the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. A technical assistance grant was also involved, which will help fund market analysis on what those potential ideas are and if they would be economically viable.
“I think one of the biggest things with city projects that people don’t always understand is we start projects, and we may not see those results for four or five years a lot of times. We’re working on stuff now that I hope in five years, when you’re working here full time, you can enjoy.”
The theme of the Why Marshalltown luncheon was concluded with a very on point question: Why Marshalltown?
Danielson, who grew up here and graduated from MHS in 2008, commented on how the community has a small town feel as well as a big city vibe. It contains plenty of amenities growing so quickly and is perfectly and centrally located near larger cities like Des Moines, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids and so on.
Miller agreed wholeheartedly.
“This size of town is the perfect size where you can build relationships,” she said.
Spohnheimer, who also discussed her side business called Buzzed Bee Meadery during the luncheon, expressed excitement about everyone who wants to see Marshalltown succeed in the future.
“One of the greatest things that I think this community has going for it is the collaborative nature of the organizations and the people in this community,” she said.
Kyle Hall is hoping to bring back some form of the Why Marshalltown lunch and learn series next year in light of the positive outcome of this year’s events, which greatly exceeded attendance expectations.
Contact Andrew Ubben at 641-753-6611 or