‘Community 360’ seeks to entice Millennials to county

Zach Mannheimer

The proposed “next stage” in Greene County development was introduced by Greene County Development Corporation at a pair of meetings Feb. 23 and Feb. 28 at the Greene Room at Wild Rose Jefferson.

“In the past few years Greene County has been humming, and we think we’ve reached the next stage in our development journey,” GCDC board member Rick Morain said. He explained that after decades of working for job growth, “In Greene County, it’s no longer people looking for jobs. It’s jobs looking for people. As a result, we’ve changed our focus at GCDC from economic development to community development… We need to position Greene County to attract young people, singles and families, to help grow all communities in our county.”

Zach Mannheimer, the entrepreneur who created the Des Moines Social Club in a 1937 art deco firehouse, has proposed a “Community 360” project to do that – to position Greene County to attract young people in the coming decades. Mannheimer now works for the consulting company Iowa Business Growth, specializing in “creative place making.”

He explains creative place making as building quality of life in communities rather than competing for large employers. “It’s easier to compete for those companies when you have a downtown and a surrounding area and a whole county that is full of vibrancy and has a big array of generations. That’s what companies are looking for,” he said. Creative place making involves creating amenities the next generation of residents will want.

Mannheimer is currently working with Fort Dodge on repurposing the old Warden Plaza Hotel to include a community center and cultural center on the bottom two floors and apartments on the top six floors.

He’s proposing a project in Jefferson that would involve five groups: Iowa Business Growth doing creative place making; Iowa Area Development Group doing land use planning and long term visioning and leadership training; McClure Engineering working on cityscapes and needed infrastructure work in downtown Jefferson; RDG Architects doing streetscapes and creative place making; and Iowa-Jobs for America’s Graduates (IJAG) to work toward a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Mannheimer would be project manager.

GCDC’s vision in the coming years includes adding a water park, youth sports complex and covered horse arena; adding retail space and enhancing downtown Jefferson; adding a business class restaurant/brew pub; new housing development in all county towns, and more.

The price tag on Mannheimer’s work is $98,000. GCDC is ready to commit $25,000. The GCDC board hopes for $24,000 from the city of Jefferson and from Greene County, with the remaining $25,000 coming from businesses.

The “product” would be a comprehensive report of what should be done, how it can be done, cost estimates for the projects, and possible funding sources. Mannheimer expects it would take 6-8 months to complete the report.

GDCD president Sid Jones said that funds for implementing the various components will be available from Wild Rose’s revenue sharing (to Jefferson and Greene County, and via Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation), the expansion of local industry, the expiration of TIF agreements in the next several years, and added tax revenue from wind turbines. He estimates $2.5 to $3 million in funding sources that weren’t available three years ago.

Jones provided a list of benefits to residents: support for existing employers in more availability of housing for employees; a community that is attractive to Millennials; wider distribution of the real estate tax liability; easier succession planning for businesses and farms due to younger people being more willing to live in the county; added student enrollment in the schools; and success creating further success.

About 45 people attended the Feb. 23 session, including representatives from the city of Jefferson and the Greene County board of supervisors. Neither of those elected groups have committed funds to the project, and FY18 budgets have been formulated without discussion of funding for it.


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