By Paul Struck, Editor
The extensive and tireless efforts by a small, discerning group of Cherokee residents led to the official designation of a Cultural & Entertainment District centered in downtown Cherokee.
Working diligently within the system and criteria provided by the State of Iowa's Department of Cultural Affairs, Cherokee became one of just eight Iowa communities receiving such designation on November 8, 2004.
The local group was then comprised of Mark Buschkamp, executive director of the Cherokee Area Economic development Corporation (CAEDC); Penny Pingry, CAEDC's community development coordinator; Cherokee Chamber of Commerce director Marci Brown; and Jim Adamson, chairman of the City of Cherokee's Historic Preservation Commission.
In the 1 1/2 years since the group began researching the criteria involved in earning a Cultural District designation, Jean Benson has joined CAEDC, replacing Pingry, and Joni DeVos is Chamber of Commerce director, replacing Brown.
After learning of the new state program in April of 2004, the group accessed the rules for the program, which combined art and culture with historic preservation. Together, they carried the potential to result in economic development even in small, rural Iowa communities.
An informational meeting was then held in the historic, restored Illinois Central
Railroad Depot on June 16, 2004. The meeting was well-attended and the energized group began to learn all it could about the program and how it might come to fruition to benefit Cherokee.
Fact sheets about the Cultural & Entertainment District program revealed that "a cultural district is a well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use, compact area of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities serves as the anchor, and is not larger than one square mile in area."
Cultural Districts can be found in communities with small populations, or in urban areas with the potential for more than one district.
Also from the fact sheets, Cherokee learned that more than 90 cities in the United States had planned or implemented a Cultural District, positioning the arts and culture as the center of revitalization efforts.
The arts and areas with historic structures are known to attract residents and tourists, who also support adjacent businesses such as restaurants, lodging, retail and entertainment. The presence of the arts and cultural opportunities enhances property values, the profitability of surrounding businesses, and the tax base of the region.
Additionally, these districts attract a diverse and well-educated work force, a key incentive for new and relocating businesses. They also contribute to the creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation of a community.
Among the ways in which revitalization of a community were to occur included beautify and animate cities and towns, provide employment, attract residents and tourists to the area, expand tax base, and stimulate small business development.
Also, newly created State of Iowa tax incentives are available to owners of historic properties in the Cultural District.
A Cultural District can help a community achieve goals, promote and market cultural activities for residents and tourists, connect the arts and culture more intimately with community development, and revitalize a particular area of a city.
As the color map shows on Page 14 in today's Chronicle Times depicting the Cherokee community and the designated Cultural & Entertainment District, many non-profit and for-profit attractions are intentionally included in the district.
In May, 2005, the committee met at the Depot with representatives of the Department of Cultural Affairs and was presented with four attractive signs announcing the presence of an Iowa Cultural District in our town. The signs are posted at main entry points and traffic corridors on U.S. Highway 59 North and South, and Main Street East and West.
The local committee forges on daily to publicize its efforts and the Cultural District offerings. Also in today's Chronicle Times on Page 2, readers will find the Cherokee Community Cultural Calendar that will be updated regularly and published in the Chronicle Times periodically to keep residents and visitors more informed of scheduled activities and events occurring in the Cultural & Entertainment District, and in the community.
"We are grateful for the help of the Cherokee Arts Council in accomplishing the calendar," said Adamson. "We will continue to work with the Arts Council to provide updated cultural calendars at regular intervals throughout the year.
"As time goes by, we will continue to communicate with the many arts and cultural enterprises in Cherokee to promote their work and activities."
Adamson said the group welcomes volunteers to help them promote the arts and culture in Cherokee. Those interested in helping should contact the CAEDC at 225-5739, or the Chamber of Commerce at 225-6414.