Woodbine Main Street
2014 Great American Main Street Award Winner
• Founded: 2008
• Population: 1,459
• Net New Jobs: 39
• Net New Businesses: 22
• Building Rehabs: 44
• New Buildings: 1
• Housing Units Added: 14
• Vacancies when program started: 10 vacant storefronts
• Current Vacancies: 1 vacant storefront
Visitors to Woodbine, Iowa, one of our 2014 Great American Main Street Award winners, will find restored brick streets that date to 1921, a historic Main Street district full of rehabbed buildings and a fierce pride of place among residents and elected officials, who are committed to making the community better.
“Woodbine is a rural community known for working together to get important, sometimes very ambitious, community projects done,” says Deb Sprecker, program director for Woodbine Main Street.
Although Woodbine Main Street is only six years old, the organization has already made huge progress in revitalizing its downtown. Partnerships are key, Sprecker says, both with the Woodbine Community Betterment & Development Corporation as well as with city officials—all of whom serve on either the Main Street board or Four-Point committees.
“We’re very proud and continue to nurture and protect that climate of effective partnerships,” Sprecker says.
Woodbine Main Street’s greatest accomplishment so far is rehabbing 23 building facades in its three-block-by-three-block district, according to Sprecker. The project was completed in January 2012 thanks to a partnership between the city, individual business owners and Woodbine Main Street, as well as $500,000 in federal funding from the Community Development Block Grant Program.
The $1.5 million restoration of the Odd Fellows building, a late-19th century brick structure built in the Italianate style, also made a huge impact on Woodbine’s downtown. New owners used private funds, historic tax credits and grants, to convert the deteriorating building into apartments, a full-service restaurant and office and retail spaces. Its assessed value rose from $18,038 in 2010 to $205,968 in 2011, and the restoration has helped spur other major projects downtown.
Another restoration that made a significant impact on Woodbine’s downtown is the conversion of the 1890s Woodbine Savings Bank, which faced structural issues so severe its owners were considering razing the property. Instead, they partnered with the city, Woodbine Main Street and a local development group to put together a $2.2 million renovation plan. The building now has 11 affordable apartments, three office suites, a communal area and outdoor deck.
Thanks to projects like the Woodbine Savings Bank conversion and the Odd Fellows restoration — as well as the efforts of Woodbine Main Street — the number of housing units downtown has doubled, from 16 units in 2008 to 32 units today. Since the program started, the number of jobs downtown has also increased 23 percent, and 22 businesses have opened or expanded.
Over the next few years, years, Woodbine Main Street’s main goal is to recover from a serious fire that damaged four historic downtown buildings last September, according to Sprecker. Woodbine residents, known as “Twiners,” immediately stepped into action—but with a thoughtful approach that emphasized preservation and long-term planning, not simply rebuilding as fast as possible.
“We’re very focused on turning a tragic loss into more dynamic offerings downtown,” Sprecker says, adding that “Main Street preservation lessons have influenced our build-back plan.”
Two buildings have already reopened, while reconstruction begins soon on the remaining two. An in-depth market analysis and three-year Sustainable Impact Study are guiding the reconstruction, which will include more housing, improved storefronts and better signage.
“Twiners take a hard look at what isn’t working, then dig in to make something better out of what they’ve been handed—and have a good time doing it,” she says.