HIAWATHA, Iowa – The city of Hiawatha is mapping out its future.
City leaders said they no longer wanted their city to be known as a bedroom community, so they're kicking off an effort to make a name for themselves by creating a town center. It'll be kind of like a downtown or a city square, but it'll be unique to Hiawatha.
"We're not saying downtown, we are saying town center because a downtown at least image-wise, people think of retail and tall buildings with offices, with lawyers and bankers and those types of things," Council Member Marty Bruns said. "We don't think we'll ever get there because you have that in Cedar Rapids, and Marion is closer to having that than we will ever be."
Discussion on the project started years ago, now it's gaining momentum.
City leaders passed a moratorium this week to prevent new construction along North Center Point Road from Boyson Road to Blairs Ferry Road. For the next six months, the city's engineering consultants will help create a plan for what should go in empty spaces there. That includes making up a new zoning district.
Council members want to make some moves as the city grows to make sure it becomes a destination spot. This new plan will help develop a hub for a city that's been without one for a long time.
"We had a study done years ago and we had a gentleman tell us the city of Hiawatha had no 'there,'" Hiawatha Mayor Tom Theis said.
Driving around Hiawatha, city leaders know there's no real "heart" of the city, but that's about to change.
"What we're looking for is a region that clearly identifies, 'Hey, this is a different city and this is a pleasant city to go to,'" Bruns said.
The plan is for the town center to grow around North Center Point Road. The city has spent tens of millions of dollars and more than a decade to fix up the main stretch. Crews are nearing the end of that construction work.
"The council wants to make sure that what businesses we have along the corridor is exactly what should be there. That's quite the investment for the city, and we want to make sure it is exactly what we want," Theis said.
A new grocery store, restaurants and hotels could be among the new buildings within the town center.
Pat Struttmann lives and works in Hiawatha. She's interested to see what the city comes up with.
"Instead of just driving through Hiawatha, people will say 'Let's go to Hiawatha and have dinner' or 'The town center has a lot to offer, let's go see what we have to do there,'" Pat Struttmann.
"We hope that when we get done that Hiawatha will someday have a 'there'," Theis said.
The mayor said Hiawatha could start seeing some of that new development in about six months.