McGregor designated an Iowa Cultural and Entertainment District

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The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) has designated McGregor an Iowa Cultural and Entertainment District, a distinction that recognizes well-identified, walkable, mixed-use destinations with a high concentration of flagship cultural facilities. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Live music (pictured here at Jade’s River Queen) is common in McGregor, and the city’s Triangle Park hosts a variety of events, like the Great River Car Show and Cruise. Those activities helped bolster the application for cultural and entertainment district designation.

“McGregor has always been kind of a cultural and entertainment district even though it didn’t have the designation...It’s such a nice, compact area, and it just made sense to actually call it what it is,” said McGregor Economic Development Lead and Deputy City Clerk Duane Boelman.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) has designated McGregor an Iowa Cultural and Entertainment District, a distinction that recognizes well-identified, walkable, mixed-use destinations with a high concentration of flagship cultural facilities. 

 

The announcement was exciting news for McGregor Economic Development Lead and Deputy City Clerk Duane Boelman, who helped apply for the designation.

 

“McGregor has always been kind of a cultural and entertainment district even though it didn’t have a designation. It always had live music at several establishments, lots of things going on at Triangle Park. As far as culture, I think the work the art center has done over the last few years falls into that,” he shared. “It’s such a nice, compact area, and it just made sense to actually call it what it is.” 

 

McGregor is already an Iowa Great Place with neighboring Marquette, as part of the Ports of Discovery. The cultural and entertainment district focuses more specifically on the community’s historic downtown but also includes the rest of Main Street and some of the adjoining side streets, in addition to the riverfront.

 

“It pretty much spans the length of Main Street because we wanted the majority of our lodging. There are a few little jogs here and there, like A Street, and we included the former Methodist Church and Gazebo Park. It took a little bit of creative thinking to get everything together,” Boelman said.

 

In all, McGregor’s cultural and entertainment district is home to over 50 businesses, five public parks and a public garden. A full-service marina, docks and tiki bar line the riverfront, and visitors can peruse an antique bookstore, enjoy several entertainment venues or shop at The Left Bank Shop and Gallery, which features the work of 76 local artists. Visitors can stay overnight in one of 10 historic buildings and choose from a log cabin, bed and breakfast or an entire home. Riverfront Park provides a sweeping view of the river, and Triangle Park is just one block away in the McGregor Commercial Historic District, home to art festivals, car cruises, the firemen’s fish fry and more.

 

According to McGregor City Administrator Lynette McManus, the application included a map of the proposed district, community demographics, photos and a narrative, which Boelman wrote. The city also enlisted the help of resident Brandi Crozier to develop an itinerary—in 2,000 words or less—for a weekend in McGregor.

 

“The challenge wasn’t finding enough for visitors to see and do, but rather finding ways to showcase the array of things while not going over the word count,” Crozier shared. 

 

Boelman added the application was fairly easy because McGregor has a long history of culture and entertainment.

 

“The Ringling Brothers Circus started here. Even the wildlife school at the McGregor Heights. It’s always been a place that’s attracted people to come and relax and have fun,” he said. “And culture is more than art­—our river is part of the culture too.”

 

McGregor is now just one of 16 cultural and entertainment districts, according to a press release from the DCA. There are 42 Iowa Great Places. 

 

Both programs are administered by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and are key components of Iowa’s creative placemaking strategy, which drives cultural community development and economic opportunities across the state.

 

Arts and culture production accounts for more than $4.5 billion in economic activity, 43,000 jobs and 2.3 percent of Iowa’s economy, and is one of three main sectors that drive regional economies, said DCA. In addition, more than two-thirds of young people choose a place to live before a job, with amenities and quality of life playing a large role in the decision.

 

In rural areas, research shows that communities with more arts and design businesses, music venues and performing arts facilities attract more out-of-county visitors, have higher business innovation scores and experience faster population growth, DCA added.

 

McGregor is one of the smaller communities to receive cultural and entertainment district status.

 

“We don’t have a large population. It’s only 700-some people. It says a lot that we can support so much entertainment—the bars, restaurants, art center, and the shops are entertainment too,” Boelman said.

 

“It shows how special McGregor is,” agreed McManus.

 

With upgrades continuing at the marina and renovations underway on the historic Masonic Block, along with future development of the Alexander Hotel and a McGregor Historical Museum expansion into the next door opera house/hardware store building, city officials feel McGregor has a lot of momentum. 

 

“All these great things are going on right now. They don’t go as fast as we’d like them to sometimes, but they are happening,” Boelman said. “And there’s so much potential in Triangle Park and on the riverfront.”

 

While the cultural and entertainment district designation doesn’t necessarily come with financial support, Boelman is hopeful the program will provide the city with resources and promotional opportunities. Being a cultural and entertainment district will also give the city points when writing grants.

 

“I do think this designation adds some state-wide visibility to McGregor, whether it be to leverage potential visitors, new residents or businesses into the community, or serve as a point of pride for those of us already living, working and doing business here,” said Crozier. “It will also be an excellent tool to use in our marketing campaigns to showcase McGregor.”

 

“It’s just a feel good thing,” Boelman added. “When we talk about tourism, we think so much of the natural things like the river and the parks. This pulls the community together a bit as far as bringing in our restaurants and bars and entertainment. It’s part of the whole package. I’m hoping it will help unite and create more of a sense of community.”

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