Update: In June, the Ames city council declined to give Lane4 more time to come up with a workable plan for Campustown redevelopment but said that the city may approach the Kansas City development company in the future.
It is not necessary to tear down blocks’ worth of buildings in Campustown in order to improve it. Campustown needs work but the district can be substantially improved through a series of investments and projects that work to beautify the district and also increase the number of cultural options available in the district.
There are a few substantive steps the city could take that do not involve major demolition and the disenfranchisement of local business owners.
A good example of how Campustown can be improved upon was offered last summer. A local nonprofit called Ames C.art, which has collaborated in the past with the Progressive, took the initiative to approach T-Galaxy about painting a mural on the side of its building. The mural adds a refreshing burst of color to the corner of Welch and Chamberlain. One of the unforeseen effects of the mural was that the owner of the neighboring building was moved to repaint the wall of his property, having seen the exterior in a new light when compared with the fresh-looking mural next door.
A mural is an example of the type of public art project that can create new partnerships between businesses and community members. And the result of such a project is an aesthetically pleasing original work of art that brightens up the street view and shows that the community is invested in the look of the district.
Downtown Ames has a number of murals as well as sculptures all over the district. The presence of public art subtly communicates that the business district is valued and well-loved. A concerted effort to increase the presence and visibility of public art works in Campustown would have the same effect.
Another form of beautification could involve the installation of more plants in Campustown. Downtown Ames again offers an example of this. The raised flower beds that adorn the sidewalks of Main Street add a burst of color and show that the district is loved and cared for. More plant life in Campustown would have the same effect.
Physical beautification efforts in Campustown would be crucial for establishing a new dynamic in the area. But even more important than aesthetic improvements is encouraging a diversity of cultural institutions to set up be established in Campustown. This would be a beautification of Campustown from within; an influx of art and culture to enrich the whole area. Already, places like Stomping Grounds, Mayhem, Grandma’s Attic, and our Ames Progressive Space offer unique cultural options in Campustown that are not oriented around drinking. Helping to encourage more spaces like these to operate in the district would add tremendous value to all of Ames.
Local resident Jeff Hall has floated the idea for a community bookstore in Campustown. That’s an example of the type of unique organization that could add new cultural flavors to the district and attract a non-drinking crowd. The city could offer grants for exciting new cultural organizations to set up shop in Campustown. A grant program for new all-ages and art spaces in the district would be a worthwhile investment for the whole community and show a dedication to enhancing the cultural life of Ames.
Campustown needs work. But it is not so irreparably broken that it warrants full-scale demolition. An ongoing project of beautifying Campustown while also actively working to enhance the cultural life of the area would alter the way the district is perceived and used and would add value to all of Ames.
[Editor's note: The Space for Ames, which until recently was a part of the Ames Progressive, is in Campustown and would be affected if Lane4's proposal were approved in its current form.]
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