Friday, August 3, 2018 By: Joseph Hopper , Daily Reporter Staff
The Committee of the Whole and area business representatives met at Startup City Spencer Tuesday to hear Des Moines-based business McClure Engineering’s proposal to create a plan for the establishment of a downtown cultural facility in Spencer. The effort is what the firm calls “creative placemaking,” and was explained to the group via video conference with Zachary Mannheimer, principal community planner at McClure Engineering. After the conference, the council decided to move forward with the plans, which will appear as an agenda item at a future Spencer City Council meeting.

“We work primarily in rural communities,” Mannheimer said. “Most of the communities we work in are less than 10,000 people. We’re all over the country, we’re in 14 different states at the moment. … The idea behind what we’re trying to do is how do you bring more people to your community. Specifically, the next generation of workforce by providing the amenities those folks are looking for without alienating or not working with all the people who have lived in that community for many years or most of their lives.”

The community planner said the creative placemaking effort proposed for Spencer is for the firm to create and design a plan to establish a cultural facility in the Spencer downtown. He shared McClure engineering has successfully planned such facilities in towns such as Newton, Stanton and Fayette among many others.

“We’re particularly excited about Spencer because you guys have already been a strong cultural community for decades,” Mannheimer said. “Our goal is to take the next step, and we see this work as an economic driver. This cultural center, whenever it comes, the goal of it is on the small side is to provide arts and culture to the community. But on the bigger side, we see this as a catalyst to not just welcome in the next generation of workforce, but also to bring other people together into the community and jumpstart downtown redevelopment, maybe jumpstart housing, jumpstart a whole bunch of stuff.”

Mannheimer outlined how the plan would be developed and designed specifically for the city of Spencer. The first step is “culturally mapping” the community to identify artists, entrepreneurs, businesses, and organizations in the community to get an idea of who might have an interest in becoming involved. The community planner said the next step is establishing a diverse 20-member steering committee, appointed by city officials. Once established, the last steps of planning include creating a “sustainable business model,” identifying revenue sources, and finding an individual or organization to run the facility.

Councilman at large George Moriarty asked Mannheimer if the Clay County Board of Supervisors should be involved in the process and if similar counties had participated in projects like the one planned for Spencer.

“Does the county take part in that, does the county participate in funding?” Moriarty said.

“Regardless of what plan we do with you guys, I would want the county involved,” Mannheimer said. “I would love to have a supervisor or two involved on the steering commission. We need as many elected officials involved as possible.”

Arts on Grand Executive Director Ryan Odor questioned Mannheimer on how already established local arts organizations would participate in the process and how such a facility would relate to Spencer’s cultural landscape.

“Do you have any examples where maybe the investment has gone into already established arts and culture places?” Odor said.

“I always recommend trying to prop up existing organizations as opposed to just going and creating a new one,” Mannheimer said. “That’s what we’re going to do first, that’s the cultural asset mapping that we do. We would talk to all of those organizations and all of the people who run those organizations and ask them what their successes are and what their limitations and struggles are currently.

He continued, “The goal is not to create something to compete with those organizations. A beautiful scenario is let’s say there are three organizations in town that focus on different aspects of the art world, to bring them together, not necessarily as one entity, but potentially under one roof or to help them build out plans to sustain where they’re currently located. … Ideally we don’t have to go do a $2 million to $3 million capital campaign, we can just create models now to help the existing organizations. We will keep an eye toward creating that culture center but if we do that the ideal scenario is that all those groups will participate and or operate that cultural center. Those groups will be a integral part of this success.”

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