Placemaking Action Plan
Through three visioning sessions held in Oskaloosa, a public survey, and employer interviews/focus groups, reoccurring ideas emerged.
These ideas formed the overarching themes of the action plan:
The action plan is divided into six sections:
The downtown area should be the energy force of the broader community, a place to work, play, learn and grow. With the rise of online shopping many squares across the country have lost the local retailers that once made up the majority of the buildings.
Oskaloosa is lucky to have a variety of local businesses, a remarkable and historic square and bandstand, the unique alleyway with a variety of summer events outside and year–round events in the adjacent mall.
A key element of a thriving downtown is a place to socialize, grab a beverage after work with friends, bring the family out for a meal, meet friends and make new ones. While the square offers some great options for lunch and a couple for dinner, it lacks a locally owned restaurant/tap that would appeal to all ages.
In their efforts to attract the younger demographic groups necessary to sustain population, small communities across the country have made hospitality establishments a central part of their community revitalization efforts. Restaurants and bars are increasingly taking on the important roles of “community gathering spaces” as well as primary markets for consumer food dollar spend (48% of food dollars are spent in hospitality establishments).
The Art Center has been off to a great start since its opening in 2017, including being recognized for its impact on the community and receiving the 2018 Governor’s Arts Award.
The Art Center is currently using less than 20% of available space in the Eagles building. With a complete build out of this space the Art Center can offer significantly more social space and programming opportunities for the community, including an innovative new makerspace.
Improved Connectivity, Pedestrian Spaces & Trails
The City of Oskaloosa has three state highways passing through it (US 63, IA 92 and IA 23) with an annual average daily traffic (AADT) in excess of 20,000 vehicles per day combined. This amount of traffic, including the truck traffic, poses a serious challenge to the City in terms of providing residents with a safe network accessible to all.
The following recommendations would enable the city to be able implement its vision for the future needs with respect to beautification, signage, improved connectivity and traffic calming solutions.
Transfer of Jurisdiction
The Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) has adopted a policy of allowing Cities and Counties having ownership of State and US Highways that pass through their localities if there are other viable routes over where traffic can be diverted, enabling the Iowa DOT to effectively manage their assets and meet their primary objective of providing safe and efficient transportation network.
This process of transferring ownership of the Iowa DOT asset to a local system entity is defined as Transfer of Jurisdiction (TJ).
A shared street is a designed to be safe and accessible for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transit riders. People of all ages and abilities should be able to move safely along and across streets in a community, regardless of how they are traveling. Shared streets are not only good for residents well-being but for neighborhood and local businesses as well.
Oskaloosa already has the advantage of the beautiful Mahaska County Recreation Trail encircling the community and connecting the Lacy Sports Complex, multiple parks, Edmundson pool, the High School and William Penn University.
While the trail offers multiple trail heads, there is currently no safe routes for someone to bike to the trail. The challenge of having two major highways intersecting the city and downtown square presents many safety concerns and is a major detraction for cyclists and pedestrians.
Bike Share Program
To add to the goal of making Oskaloosa a bicycle friendly community and increase accessibility, the city of Oskaloosa, in partnership with William Penn University, should consider creating a community bike share program.
Arts & Entertainment
Oskaloosa is already in an excellent position regarding Arts, Entertainment & Cultural amenities with unique amenities. What is greatly needed is more collaboration between these groups and a collective strategy to support the livelihood of these important organizations. The entire community benefits from having these organizations and opportunities locally. To ensure all arts and culture groups grow and thrive together and not as competition we recommend these entities combine under one umbrella organization.
FACE (Fine Arts and Culture Events)
FACE (The Fine Arts & Cultural Events) of Mahaska County is already serving as the umbrella organization for the Art Center, the sculpture tour and the upcoming sculpture annex. We recommend a plan to strengthen FACE and add other organizations such as the George Daily Auditorium.
Greater Connection with William Penn University
Bridging the Gap
William Penn has been a staple institution in the community since 1873 however there seems to be a disconnect between the University and the broader community despite efforts on and off campus to build the bond.
When investigating the disconnect between William Penn students and the downtown area, a complex issue boiled down to a central problem: many students don’t have cars, and therefore see downtown as inaccessible.
Once the larger transportation issue is remediated, the culture of separation between the university and the town must be mended. Several opportunities for mentorship programs may be the solution.
Housing development is an essential component of any community revitalization strategy. People in Oskaloosa are faced with either buying or renting older homes or moving elsewhere. Many choose the second option. There also appears to be some resistance to paying higher prices for new construction. This is due in part to the availability of lower cost alternatives and in part due to fears regarding future resale value.
Addressing the Challenge
The simple answer to this problem is that the cost to build does not equal the cost to sell or rent. When you add that up with the fact that it is easier and more economical to build in urban metros and a developer will normally need to pull in subs from metro areas because the trades have left rural, we’ve got a recipe for a housing shortage. However, good paying jobs exist in Mahaska County. Quality of life is strong for families. We can build upon this to lure in developers, but we need to incentivize them.
Beautification & Wayfinding
Finding Oskaloosa’s Voice
With local events, tournaments, tourism comes the opportunity to present your community as an excellent place to live. The community has already taken great effort in past projects and shows the quality of life through things like the Lacy complex, the Mahaska County recreation trail, the George daily auditorium, the alley, a wide variety of public events, the Urban Park, public art, the Simply Brilliant brand as well as wayfinding signs across the community.
With these impressive existing amenities in place the city should consider investing in beautification, wayfinding and key visual elements further expressing the high quality of life that can be found in a city that invests in itself and its citizens.
As a result of the transfer of jurisdiction of the major highways through town, the city will have slower and less traffic, more economic opportunity and safer roads for all forms of transportation. With this process it will be important to prioritize gateway beautification and wayfinding elements into future plans creating a welcoming entrance and an easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing community.
Downtown Oskaloosa already has much to offer; from the Alley to the Square, there are unique artistic features and amenities in place. With a few targeting improvements in beautification, streetscaping, and wayfinding, foot traffic to existing downtown spaces will be increased.