IRON MOUNTAIN - The 20 some business owners that attended Iron Mountain's Main Street Jump Start Rally Thursday evening should have left the meeting feeling energized and positive about the future of the downtown.
The meeting, held at the Izzo-Mariucci Center, was to celebrate the completion of the Downtown Iron Mountain Market Study and formally kick-off the implementation phase.
Linnea Marchetti, chair of the DDA/Main Street Board and owner of Linnea & Kristine, said the document is real personal to downtown Iron Mountain and is not bland or boring.
"I'm really excited about the branding concept," she said. "It's sharp. It has energy. I think it will give Iron Mountain an identity and continuity."
Marchetti added Iron Mountain is bustling.
"The statistics say Iron Mountain is in good shape. I am amazed at the quality of goods sold in Iron Mountain," she said.
Jay Schlinsog, owner of Downtown Professionals Network (DPN), the Batavia, Ill.,-based consulting firm that helped Iron Mountain Main Street create the plan, presented a one-hour Power Point presentation on a summary of the market analysis.
Schlinsog and his partner, Lisa Bennett, spent a total of three separate weeks talking with business owners, surveying them, compiling information and seeing what downtown Iron Mountain has to offer.
"We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Iron Mountain has left a very valuable impression on us," he said.
The Main Street area encompasses U.S. 2 (Stephenson Avenue), and Chapin Pit to the County Courthouse and one to two blocks east and west.
Primary and secondary trade areas were identified as part of the market study. Primary includes Florence, Wis., Iron Mountain, Niagara, Wis., Norway, Quinnesec and Vulcan. Secondary includes Crystal Falls, Felch, Iron River and Pembine, Wis.
Schlinsog said those areas account for 50,000 people.
Challenges ahead for downtown include the need for maintenance of buildings and public spaces, traffic on U.S. 2, traffic patterns in the downtown, overcoming perceptions, and enticing people to explore and discover what actually exists downtown.
"You don't know what's in the building until you go inside. It's quite impressive. You do, in fact, have a lot to be proud of," Schlinsog said to business owners at the meeting.
It was noted Iron Mountain only has a 6 percent vacancy rate or 36,000 square feet of unoccupied space. Some communities have up to 40 percent or more vacancy rate.
"Only 6 percent ground floor square footage is vacant," Schlinsog said. "You want to have opportunity for new businesses."
Schlinsog said there are real gems and in some cases, there is historic charm to the buildings downtown. He said Iron Mountain has a nice mix of restaurants and retail, entertainment, lodging and accommodations, government and non-profits.
Progressive Farmer identified Iron Mountain as top 10 Best Places to Live in Rural America, and Sherman Travel listed the city as top 10 Summer Destinations in the World, according to the study.
Suggestions to improve the downtown include recruiting businesses, improving business mix, working to retain and help existing businesses expand, enhance downtown streetscape, improve maintenance of buildings and public space, calm traffic, market and promote the downtown, develop common vision and goals, and work cooperatively and move forward.
"I recommend you take tremendous strides in that regard," Schlinsog said.
Priorities identified by the business survey included enhancing streetscape and pedestrian amenities, slow down and calm traffic in downtown, improve and/or create housing in the downtown area, restore and preserve downtown historic resources and character, and stage festivals and special events in the downtown area.
"Downtown is becoming the place to live because people want to be part of the 'buzz,'" Schlinsog said.
"There is real wealth to captivating in your downtown market. Italian Fest, Out to Lunch - these types of activities are putting a positive spin on the downtown."
Potential targets the Main Street board should focus on include entrepreneurs, professionals, service providers, techies and artists and boomerangs - those who given the opportunity to move back to the area may and will be back in a heartbeat.
Schlinsog said organization is critical for improving the downtown.
"It is the central nervous system for Main Street - what will take place in the years ahead," he said. "Key ingredients are funding, volunteers, partnerships, buildings, leadership development and public relations. It really does emphasize critical work that needs to be done."
Schlinsog added involving the community in all phases of planning and implementation is also key.
"I am still excited about Main Street because I know it works. It has to be the most exciting time for you and Iron Mountain," Schlinsog said. "You are the decision makers."
Lisa M. Hoffmann's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.