Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs (IDCA) declared Washington one of Iowa’s “Great Places” late last week, a recognition of the community’s dedication to the arts, culture and growth.
“These communities are committed to transforming their towns and businesses by growing their creative workforce,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer said in a news release. “These programs help Iowans develop and focus a vision for the sustainable development of their cultural places while generating new economic opportunities. We look forward to partnering with them to make their visions a reality.”
Washington is one of four new names on the Great Places list this year, putting the total at 42 cities around the state.
Washington Mayor Jaron Rosien said the recognition was an honor.
“Personally, I think Washington, Iowa is a great place regardless of the designation,” he said. “But the designation is meaningful as it shines a light on our community and the things we have to offer.”
The city applied for Great Place designation when the program first launched in 2006, but was turned down. The state recommended establishing a Main Street program, a suggestion the community ran with.
“It was very project-based, and we didn’t have enough momentum to get a project done at the time we applied,” Main Street Washington Executive Director Sarah Grunewaldt said. “We got designated (as a Main Street community) in ‘08, and we’ve had a lot of success.”
Grunewaldt, like many others involved in the process, said Main Street’s role was essential in winning the designation.
“We are nearing almost $19 million of investment since 2008,” Grunewaldt said. “It’s huge, what we’ve done in a short amount of time … having a Main Street Program really sold them on, ‘You have a beautiful community that is growing and thriving, and you’re going to keep momentum moving forward because you have a community people want to live in.’”
Grunewaldt declined take all the credit, however.
“It wasn’t just us, we had the members of the Chamber, community groups, Latinos for Washington, the city, (on) the board,” she said. “It was a broad mix.”
Millie Youngquist, a city council member who spearheaded the application effort, said she was especially excited by the news.
“I was ready to jump up and down, celebrate, throw confetti,” she said. “It’s really a great feather in Washington’s cap. I just feel it’s a recognition of what many people and many organizations and businesses around town have done, and what we’ll continue to do.”
The application itself was a two-year process, with an unofficial committee of community members seeking community feedback, establishing goals for the future and a creating 25-page document spelling out what made Washington a great place.
Changes made leading up to that application stretch back even further, and included many now-iconic parts of the city that showcase its culture. A film festival was launched in town, wintertime lights were installed around the square, a mural was painted on the historical State Theater, the Streetscape project was implemented and several housing initiatives were launched.
In addition to the recognition’s marketing use that helps put communities on the map, it opens up grant opportunities.
The IDCA allows designated Great Places to apply for funding to single projects during the five-year designation period. While the grants are competitive, awards have ranged from $31,380 to $400,000 according to the state since 2016. The average is $230,838.
Youngquist said that could pair with other funding opportunities for a wide variety of possible projects.
“There are certain other state grants we might apply for that, because we’re a Great Place, it gives us some extra points,” Youngquist said. “We were waiting to hear about this designation, and then we’ll probably put our heads together and decide.”