McGregor master plan open house gathers input on goals and projects

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Angie Killian was among the roughly 200 people who attended a McGregor master planning open house on Oct. 6. The event continued to gather input on community goals and projects. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

Around 200 people attended a McGregor master planning open house at the Convention Conference Community Center (former Methodist Church) on Oct. 6, which continued to gather input on community goals and projects.

 

Representatives from MSA Professional Services Inc. shared what they called high level draft goals in areas such as economy and employment, resiliency, housing, intergovernmental collaboration, transportation, ag and natural resources, community facilities/infrastructure and recreation, in addition to more specific downtown goals and images of potential riverfront development ideas. 

 

According to Jim Holz with MSA, the information was drawn from community surveys completed earlier this year, a pop up gathering session at the Big Buoys grand opening this summer and several meetings with McGregor’s master plan steering committee.

 

McGregor’s outgoing economic development lead/deputy city clerk Duane Boelman, along with Brandi Crozier, who’s taken over the position, were pleased with the turnout.

 

“I was blown away,” Crozier said. “People care, and they are invested in the future. They particularly have concerns about the downtown and want to see that we’re taking steps to move forward with that work.”

 

“And it was a pretty good cross section of people there. The council was there, people from downtown, people who live here,” Boelman added. “There were some good ideas out there.”

 

Downtown goals included promoting McGregor as a destination, with more emphasis on its historic significance. People would like to highlight the riverfront and Ringling Brothers, redevelop the grain bin at the entrance to town in a unique and artful manner, encourage the use of condos above retail spaces, promote infill development for vacant lots and revisit the “Trail of Two Cities” connection between Marquette and McGregor. Also on the list were emphasis and enhancement of the Alexander Hotel and reinvigoration of the McGregor Historical Museum with enhanced attractions.

 

A SWOT analysis revealed the community’s thoughts on perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

 

Among the strengths were the Mississippi River and natural beauty, parks and recreation, community history and architectural charm and a walkable downtown. Opportunities played off those strengths, with ideas for more recreation and tourism. 

 

Weaknesses included a lack of parking and poor handicap accessibility, few jobs, flooding threats, train tracks and deteriorating buildings. Threats listed were funding, poor enforcement of zoning, lack of affordable housing, railroad and semi truck traffic and a small workforce pool.

 

Referencing feedback he heard that night, Holz said lodging is also important. 

 

“They want people to be able to stay in the community,” he said. “They’d also love to see more events to bring people into town.”

 

On the housing front, attendees were able to view two proposed concepts for the 18- to 20-unit riverfront condo development. Boelman said the project is slated to break ground this spring.

 

“They’re putting both concepts out there and will build whatever makes the most sense. They’re going to try to do some pre-selling before they break ground,” Crozier noted.

 

The downtown will also get additional condos with completion of the Masonic Block building, but there are more opportunities, according to city officials.

 

“There’s still space downtown, above the art center and perhaps above the hardware store,” Boelman said.

 

“But that’s tricky in a lot of ways,” Crozier acknowledged. “There’s a lot of untapped potential, but in order to address that well, you have to address the parking situation too.”

 

She added that it’s also difficult for the public, as well as the city, to influence some specific projects or buildings since they are private property and privately funded. McGregor’s recent selection for the Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program will offer more control for community projects.

 

“The visioning work is more about making public places and spaces,” Crozier said.

 

Another theme revealed at the open house is that the community would like to see more focus on things that benefit the residents that also benefit the tourists. 

 

“Most people understand we are a tourism community and do need to keep working at that, but just that we don’t lose sight of making this place—or keeping this place—great for our residents as well. Not investing a lot of resources in promoting or supporting tourism, meanwhile they are left to foot the tax bill,” Crozier explained. “Moving forward, we are trying to find projects and investments that cater to a large and broad demographic, rather than small, targeted demographics. That will serve us better in the long run.”

 

But, added Boelman, “Most things that are good for tourism are also good for the people who live here. It’s a quality of life thing. That’s why a lot of us are here. Anything on the riverfront, or in parks or public places, is going to be good for everyone.”

 

Holz and fellow MSA representative Shannon Gapp said they will take the feedback gathered at the open house to refine the presented goals and work on the implementation portion of the plan. 

 

“There will be an action plan matrix that will describe goals, who can be involved and the timeframe it will take to get to those goals,” Gapp stated.

 

The public is encouraged to complete a historical resources survey now available at https://arcg.is/HTTm4. This survey will help both MSA and the steering committee clarify previous feedback, Holz said. It will also specifically ask about potential use of the Alexander Hotel and gather thoughts on the McGregor Historical Museum, the expansion of which has been proposed into the next door opera house/hardware store. Both the hotel and hardware store buildings were bought by Jeff and Jenifer Westphal, with the intent to turn them over to a community non-profit for development of additional historical experiences in McGregor.

 

Completion of this master plan is a large step in seeing some of those plans come to fruition.

 

“The master plan is something Jeff has been wanting done before making any plans for what to do with those buildings,” Boelman said.

 

Crozier and Boelman agreed it will also be up to the city to take action.

 

“As city workers, we should be doing what we can to keep moving forward,” Crozier said. “There are so many things this community is on the brink of. The marina is improving, we’ve got the Masonic Block project going on, the Westphals working at their situation, the downtown project.”

 

Boelman said the city will likely prioritize items the council feels is most important, “and probably more important, things that can actually be accomplished. Some things, such as a trail along the river, will take years to accomplish. But that’s something that would be amazing for the community and change everything as far as interaction between Marquette and McGregor—the fact you could walk, run or bicycle between the two towns.”

 

They both encouraged community support to continue.

 

“With community support, some pretty amazing things can happen, but without it, it will be much more of a challenge,” Boelman said.

 

“It’s important people keep showing up because it shows the community is ready,” Crozier added. “I think McGregor is dying for one of these things to happen. It’s time. It will be interesting to see what happens next.”

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