Site Navigation


This assessment is geared at developing and attracting current and future talent in Fayette. It recognizes that the people best positioned to better the community are those that have already chosen to live there. Ultimately, these individuals will be charged with seeing this assessment from vision to reality.

Their vision is wide-ranging. Fayette residents want more programming at the Fayette Opera House. They recognize the huge opportunity that vacant storefronts present and also would like to see blighted properties throughout the community remediated. At the same time, Fayette residents understand their community has a shortage of housing options, limiting population growth as well as broader community development opportunities.

Residents desire to have essential services – a dentist, a barber, a salon, and service providers such as mental health professionals – in addition to more grocery, retail and restaurant options. They recognize that these are essential elements in attracting and retaining talent and growing the local economy.

A comprehensive listing of the visioning session results can be found in Appendix A.

Our focus became four specific action plans: Opera House programming and Upper Iowa University integration, new restaurant operator, new development for Main Street, and housing options. You will find specific action steps to follow in order to bring these new concepts to fruition.


A major concern we identified upon our first visit, is that one reason students may not be walking from campus to downtown is there is not a clear trail, or sidewalks, for students to safely make this 5 minute walk. The City should immediately build a sidewalk through the greenspace behind the Opera House to physically connect the campus to downtown. The rest of the greenspace should be converted to parkland with a gazebo added to make the space attractive for weddings and other events that can utilize the Opera House adjacent to the land.

3-Organization Merger

There are 3 arts and education based organizations in Fayette – The Public Library, Rainbow Land Pre-school and Daycare, and the Opera House. The daycare center is highly-rated and does well financially, but needs to expand due to a long waiting list. The Public Library provides excellent programming but struggles to meet the needs of all community members, and increases to their funding are unlikely. The Opera House is a world-class institution, but it is underutilized, producing only 8-10 events annually.

These three organizations compete for funding in a limited population. Additionally, employers in Fayette often find it challenging to recruit new talent to the community as there is a lack of social programs, spaces, housing, and childcare options.

The plan we are outlining here will address all of these needs, specifically with an eye on:

  • Creating more workforce development
  • Addressing housing needs/concerns
  • Creating more social programs and venues
  • Resource generation for non-profit programming

In order to maximize programming at these nonprofit organizations, as well as creating a strong plan to fundraise, we are proposing a merge of all three nonprofit groups into one entity, and adding a fourth program to the mix; a children’s interactive zone, complete with rental space for birthday parties and events and a pizza/ice cream parlour.

  • The merger will accomplish several things:
  • Pooling budgets into one entity will make for one larger budget that can be more competitive for state and national grants
  • Pooling resources will help to hire additional staff
  • Ability to hire one executive director for Opera House and Innovation Zone
  • Ability to hire one marketing company
  • Creation of more space and programming for Daycare center
  • Cross-promotion of events

Later in this plan we are proposing an increase to programming at the Opera House which will impact their budget and call for an Executive Director. The current Opera House budget cannot support a full time director, or additional staff. The Public Library will need to raise more funds for expanded programming and will not be able to do that without more resource generation. The childcare center is financially sound, but could benefit from being part of this grouping with an increase in funding to expand programming.

Each entity can and should retain individual programming. The combined budgets will exist on paper to illustrate a larger, overall budget for grant seeking purposes, as well as to pool resources to hire shared staff and increased programs. Each organization should retain a board of directors who help maintain programming, but one centralized board (with 3-5 members from each current board) will represent the larger group.

This radical idea will set up the existing organizations for success for the future and create innovative programming that addresses all of the concerns the City of Fayette faces when being challenged to attract and retain the next generation of workforce.

Action Steps

Establish a new nonprofit corporation

3 current non-profit board of directors

This NPO will act as a consortium of Rainbowland Daycare, Fayette Opera House, Fayette Library and the new Fayette Children’s Interactive Zone.

Work with attorney in pro-bono capacity to incorporate as 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Choose 3-5 current board members from each organization and create a new board of directors to oversee all operations, current and new.

Q1 2018

Create new programming budget


Combine programming and staffing budgets into one, look for redundancies and make corrections. Add in a full time Executive Director and a shared marketing company and see what impact that has on budget.

Q2 2018

Create new programming and fund the gap


Add in programming of new Interactive Zone as well as expanded after school programming and Opera House programming. Look for the gap in revenue when combined employees and programming. That amount becomes the amount the Development Director must commit to raising each year, plus 10%.

Q2 2018

Plan Capital Campaign


Determine costs for new Interactive Zone (plus 10%), add in an increase of 10% for current programs between the 3 entities, and add in two years’ worth of gap funding for general programming. This amount is the amount you need to raise in a capital campaign that will last 12-18 months.

Q2 2018

Launch Capital Campaign

Capital Campaign Committee

Choose 10-15 members of new, combined board of directors and elect 3 tri-chairs for the capital campaign committee. Plan 3 events (one to launch campaign, one in the middle and one to close out last $10,000.) Work behind scenes to raise at least 50% of overall campaign before campaign is announced publicly. Then throw first big event and announce to community that the campaign is on, and you’ve already raised 50%.

Q3 2018

Fayette Opera House

The Fayette Opera House is a gem of a building. Situated conveniently on Fayette’s Main Street, the classic Opera House presents incredible opportunities to create community engagement. However, the space remains underutilized and overlooked by the university staff and students.

The Opera House produces 8-10 events annually, along with a local church that rents the space on Sunday mornings for services. Additionally, the space operates with an all-volunteer staff, including their board of directors, and has an annual budget of $30,000 – $50,000. We are proposing a major shift in focus, programming and structure for the nonprofit organization.

The Opera House sits as a gateway to Fayette’s downtown, as well as the Upper Iowa University campus. Being that the two worlds (downtown and campus) are only separated by 1 block, there should be much more interaction between them. Yet students don’t believe downtown offers them many opportunities to socialize, and largely due to this, the business community of downtown Fayette does not utilize the campus for programming opportunities. The Opera House can be the physical catalyst to change these perceptions and actions.

The basement floor of the Opera House includes a commercial grade kitchen and seating for over 100 people. In the programming model we are proposing several new events that can take advantage of this space, as well as adding a liquor license to the space.

The nonprofit should apply for an annual beer and wine liquor license in order to increase revenue and attract a new generation of audience members to the space.

The bar will act strictly as a concession stand, no different than a baseball park, the bar will only be opened when there is an event.

A new board needs to be elected to take on the Opera House programming, as well as the hiring of an Executive Director/Program Manager. The new board should include the following types of people:

Current board members
Current volunteers
3-4 Students from UIU
1-2 City officials elected or not
1-2 downtown business owners

This mix of directors will provide for diverse programming that should attract all walks of life in Fayette. The key is here to let the students program the space, without alienating community members who have relied upon Opera House programming for generations.

*See previous section on creation of new nonprofit entity that the Opera House will be a vital part of this. This plan is how the organization can afford paid staff members.

New Programming should include traditional piano lessons to culinary classes and late night DJ events.

  • Painting
  • Yoga
  • Culinary Classes
  • Dance Classes
  • Theater Camps
  • Culinary Camps
  • Gallery Openings
  • Live Music
  • Independent Films
  • Cult Classics
  • Family Films
  • Trivia Nights
  • Open Mic Nights
  • Dance Events
  • Comedy Nights
  • Theater Productions

Action Steps

Recreate Board of Directors (BOD)

Current BOD

Ask UIU for a list of student body leaders to serve on BOD.

Q4 2017

Work with new Innovation Zone to form joint budget

BOD and Interactive Zone board

Share responsibilities for fundraising and marketing. Agree to hire Executive Director, Programming Manager and Administrative staff who are shared between both organization.

Q1 2018

Solidify programming and capital costs


Personalize business plan created here, determine how many staff are needed for instructional classes, and add capital costs into larger capital.

Q2 2018

Children’s Interactive Zone

Fayette County has a population of a little over 20,000, and like nearly every rural county in America, it has seen its population decrease since the 1920’s. The reasons behind this are well documented, but one outlier that we found again and again in our research and interviews of residents – a severe lack of year-round activities for families. When we asked what parents do with young children on weekends in order to get their energy out in a constructive (hopefully educational) way, a common response was “we take them to the playplace at McDonald’s,” nearly 20 miles away in Oelwein.

Family amenities are a major concern for Upper Iowa University faculty, as well as other businesses, when talent is considering moving to Fayette. This alone would build the case for a new year-round, family friendly amenity. When you add in a new amenity in Fayette would be the only space like this in a 30-mile radius, the concept becomes financially viable.

The Fayette Children’s Interactive Zone (working title) will fulfill the needs mentioned above, as well as serve as a community space for birthday parties, summer camps, after-school programming, expanded daycare and educational programming. Special Events outlined in the budget that serve as fundraisers for the non-profits should also serve as new, annual events/festivals for downtown Fayette.

New Programming should include

  • Educational Programming
  • Birthday Parties
  • Music Camps
  • Art Camps
  • After School Programming
  • Daily Drop In

The Children’s Interactive Zone will primarily serve as a daily drop-in space, where families can pay based on attendance or buy an annual pass. Inside the space will offer a playscape with water features including water hoses, dam building, sprinklers, water wheels and dump buckets. Along with the water features, a large climbing space (similar to a treehouse) and open mat space will make up the main space of the center. 3 side rooms that are available daily for ball play, educational toys and a soft playspace for toddlers and infants. Those rooms will double as private party rooms that can be rented for birthday parties, celebrations, and other events that will come along with play by the hour time in the main room. There will be opportunities to join weekly playgroups for younger children, and educational events/classes offered throughout the year to take advantage of.

Additionally, an outdoor playscape will be featured adjacent to the building in order to fulfill Fayette’s need for a downtown playgroup. Making this space available to the community at no cost should be a compromise between the newly formed nonprofit group and the city. Additionally it should come with city funding for the structure if the nonprofit will assume liability and maintenance. A splash pad could also be considered as another amenity if fundraising allows.

Another concept to entice more families to use the space would be to provide child friendly treats and/or healthy snack options. Either can work, though treats likely lead to more repeat customers. Creating an ice-cream parlour as part of the building would create revenue that can go back to the non-profit and underwrite a lot of the costs. Additionally, this parlour could provide unique sundaes for birthday parties, pizza for the community and become another revenue model.

Vacancies in downtown Fayette afford the community the opportunity to reclaim second story commercial space for loft apartments. These spaces can be transformed into modern lofts for University professors and other creative community members as part of a mixed-use redevelopment project that activates downtown and spurs further development. Developing a new building on vacant land on Main Street can house the Innovation Zone and Ice Cream Parlor on floor 1 and have 4 modern lofts for UIU faculty on upper floor.

Action Steps

Form Board of Directors (BOD) and rename space

Susan Scott and Community Leaders

Susan has expressed interest in leading this organization. She can work with the other non-profits who are forming the consortium of groups to form board of directors.

Q1 2018

Work with Opera House on combining budgets

BOD and Opera House BOD

As outlined in this plan, both the Interactive Zone and Opera House should combine into 1 entity in order to share staff, resources, funding and marketing.

Q1 2018

Work with developer for downtown building

BOD, Developer and Architect

The concept does not have to go into a new building on Main Street, but that is the best use of both concepts. Work with developer of property to negotiate lease for first floor. Work with architect to design space and determine costs for capital needs.

Q2 2018

Solidify programming and capital costs


Personalize business plan created here, determine how many staff are needed for instructional classes, and add capital costs into larger capital campaign for 4 non-profits.

Q2 2018


Responding the longstanding need for a business class restaurant to exist in Fayette, Upper Iowa University took it upon itself to fix this problem. Faced with an increasing concern in attracting not only students, but faculty as well, the University constructed a new building on Main Street. The first floor housed an innovative new model with a University run coffee shop and retail store, and an upscale restaurant on the second floor. For a time, both entities were successful…

The Pavo Blue coffee shop remains active and successful today, but the restaurant began to suffer. The first restaurant failed and was soon replaced by a new concept with a more casual sports bar theme. While this new concept was popular for game days and happy hours, it struggled with similar issues that its predecessor had in experience and knowledgeable staff. This restaurant closed about a year ago, leaving a hole in amenities for downtown Fayette.

For a new venture to be successful, the University should consider a three-pronged approach that expands the current Pavo Blue coffee shop, develops the open street-level space into a tap room/craft beer bar, and renovates the second floor into a table service restaurant with catering capabilities. In the ideal scenario, the University would identify a single owner to operate all three food and beverage spaces.

Two different plans could work in this space.

The Shrubb family has been in active talks with the City and University to acquire the space. The husband and wife team have years of restaurant experience between them. Billy was formerly a chef in the first incarnation of restaurant in the building and knows the space well, and they currently run a successful food truck operation called Shrubb’s Street Eatery, serving a 20-mile radius. Working with the business model established in this plan, Shrubb’s Street Eatery could have a brick and mortar location and revitalize this space.

Another option is the Gusto Pizza Company, a local chain in Central Iowa. The owners of Gusto are looking to expand to a rural location, and are intrigued by Fayette. A strong incentive package from the University would encourage them to consider Fayette.

The first option, Shrubb’s Gourmet Eatery, will offer a “polished casual” restaurant where customers will have an upscale food experience without the formality of traditional fine dining. As a polished casual restaurant, Shrubb’s will focus on presenting its culinary story. Key to this will be the presence and visibility of chef/owner Billy Shrubb and his commitment to “good food.” (Good being defined as local, superior quality ingredients and a unique culinary approach.)

The restaurant should offer a full bar as well as signature cocktails and a strong wine list. The restaurant will need to straddle the fence of being a destination for a “special night out,” a regular choice for university staff and other locals seeking to entertain visiting guests, and a place that area residents regularly frequent. Striking this balance will be key because there is not enough population to sustain a special occasion restaurant.

Much of what is needed to start a successful table service restaurant and corresponding lounge already is in place, and the space is in relatively good condition. Most of the needed furniture is in place as well. Most of the needed upgrades appear to be cosmetic.

The following costs assume the building will be reconfigured into a full service lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch restaurant on the second floor and a taproom on the first floor.

Full business plan for overall programming and budget can be found in Appendix C.

2nd Floor Restaurant
POS System $4,000
Back of House $15,000
Small Wares $5,000
Buildout $14,000
1st Floor Tap Room
POS System $4,000
Small Kitchen Prep Equipment $5,000
Small Wares $2,500
Buildout $5,000

Action Steps

Finalize business plan

Upper Iowa University & Shrubbs

Take business plan created in this strategy and personalize it to fit the restaurant the University and the Shrubbs want.

Q1 2018

Determine loan/incentive package

Upper Iowa University

Use business plan to understand expected financial position for first three years of operation. Develop loan/incentive package from University as described in Appendix D, taking a long-term view to ensure the venue’s success. Enter into agreement with Shrubbs.

Q1 2018

Determine interior finishes


Hire interior designer. Select interior finishes to create desired vibe.

Q2 2018

Complete building upgrades and hire opening staff


Update interior finishes. Hire opening front of house (FOH) and back of house (BOH) staff. Go heavy on FOH staff to weed out the best staff and ensure enough help for opening weeks. Work with professional to train FOH staff.

Q3 2018

Opening and marketing campaign

Upper Iowa University & Shrubbs

Push marketing campaign throughout building prep. Create website and show interior progress in pictures and videos. Plan for at least four soft openings with family and friends. Budget for these events.

Q4 2018


Housing development is an essential component of any community revitalization strategy. People in Fayette 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.

Private investment in housing is not occurring because of the limited demand for new housing and the high risk associated with selling or renting newer homes. These two challenges – project scale and market risk – must be overcome for housing development to occur in Fayette. In the short term, private developers seeking to invest in Fayette would struggle to address these challenges because their desire to invest in larger projects to take advantage of economies of scale invariably increases their market risk beyond acceptable levels.

Supporting the new housing programs with a focus on specific target markets, satisfying their needs, and achieving prices or rents they can afford is crucial to this effort. Pre-selling and pre-leasing, to the extent possible, should be pursued as part of this marketing strategy.

The equity required to start a nonprofit development corporation and to engage in all three areas simultaneously on a smaller scale (i.e., two new houses, two renovated houses, and a four-unit apartment project at one time) would be approximately $310,000. This funding could be derived from the local government, local employers, and supportive individuals.

In many ways, the nonprofit corporation’s work could be seen as market development, as it would:

  • Reintroduce new housing product in Fayette
  • Establish a market price for the housing
  • Build consumer demand over time
Small Scale Startup
Two New Homes $100,000
Two Home Renovations* $50,000
One 4-Unit Apartment or Townhouse* $160,000
Working Capital & Startup Funds $50,000

*Represents 25% of cost for each unit

To overcome the project scale and market risk challenges, a nonprofit development corporation to facilitate housing in Fayette should be created. A nonprofit corporation would be better positioned to take on smaller scale projects and would be able to shoulder the initially higher market risks. Possible development projects for the nonprofit include:

  • Building middle-class, single-family homes on infill lots two at a time, taking advantage of the state’s workforce housing tax credits
  • Building small apartment or townhouse rental projects, possibly in combination with a new commercial projects, again taking advantage of workforce housing tax credits and/or workforce housing loan program
  • Operating a home renovation program in which older homes would be purchased, renovated, and resold back into the marketplace.

Action Steps

Establish a nonprofit development corporation to act, in the absence of sustained private investment, as a local housing developer in Fayette

City of Fayette and Upper Iowa University

Work with attorney in pro-bono capacity to incorporate as 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Develop other necessary guiding documents. Secure seed funding, looking to the city, University, and private individuals or companies. Develop three-year pro forma and work plan, including priority areas.

Q1 2018

Survey faculty and staff regarding their housing choices

Upper Iowa University

Design survey to gauge faculty and staff interest in living in Fayette, the barriers to living in Fayette, and the type and expected costs of preferred housing. Questions also should seek to answer how many commuting staff would relocate to Fayette if new housing opportunities existed. Survey results can form the basis of a new housing development strategy.

Q2 2018

Initiate small-scale housing development projects in Fayette

Nonprofit Development Corporation

Market projects and pre-sell or pre-lease contemplated units. Apply for tax credits. Build middle-class, single-family homes on infill lots. Build one small apartment of townhouse rental project. Rehabilitate two houses.

Q2 2018

Introduce marketing and incentive programs* designed to encourage employees to live in Fayette

Upper Iowa University

Conduct initial focus groups. Develop marketing concepts and refine with help of focus groups. Research other incentive programs. Design incentive program and determine return on investment. Launch targeted campaign.

*Incentive programs can pool resources such as funding for down payments and/or rent reduction. Should this be for former students, another incentive is to offer resources to pay down student loans in exchange for residing in Fayette

Q3 2018


Fayette is a city on the rise. After many years of little communication between Upper Iowa University students and downtown leaders, this process has stirred still waters to create active exchanges. Much of this new excitement stems from The Opera House. The programming that can be created by students and city leaders at the space should become the catalyst for further downtown development. Standing on the literal middle ground between both worlds, The Opera House, working with current and new food and beverage institutions, will stimulate an active downtown shared by both worlds of Upper Iowa University and life-long residents of Fayette.

The Opera House cannot do it alone, of course. Collaborating with the other nonprofits old and new to form a new nonprofit collaboration with an arts and education focus will help to stimulate economic development. This combines with a new restaurant operator, developing the vacant land on Main Street, and implementing a comprehensive housing plan will bring Fayette back to prominence.

The key to all of this economic and cultural success depends on the University and City working together to execute the ideas and actions expressed in this plan. Over the next 12-18 months, these actions should be implemented so that they do not go stale. Momentum and excitement are vital to bringing this plan to fruition, and we recommend acting immediately once this report has been received.