alden: creative center

Study after study has demonstrated the importance of having a creative outlet. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s A Healthier Michigan program notes benefits such as a break from anxiety and stress, a healthier body and mind, scheduled time for oneself, a chance to meet new people, and a healthy outlet as just some of the benefits of exploring one’s creative interests.

Despite these proven benefits, Hardin County residents can’t easily access places to let their creative juices flow. They must travel to a larger community or, worse yet, completely miss out on the opportunity to connect with their neighbors and explore their creative side.

Establishing a creative center in downtown Alden will draw more people to the community and also will continue activating the community’s main street.

Hardin County should develop a 28E agreement with the cities that outlines the specific scope – including the enforcement officer’s duties as well as those of the county and cities – and fees, including the structure for the payment of funds. Given their existing programs, Iowa Falls and Eldora do not need to be part of this primary 28E agreement; however, they may consider entering into a secondary agreement to work collaboratively with the county program.

To ensure program success, the agreement(s) and funding commitments should initially cover a three-year period. As the three year window comes to a close, the county and cities will need to assess early successes and outcomes and modify the program as needed to ensure long-term success.

Funding for the position should be shared amongst the county and cities, excluding Iowa Falls and Eldora. It should be calculated based on population and the number of housing units. Since the code enforcement officer’s work will be based largely on the number of units, this element should be weighted more than population; of course, the two typically go hand in hand. An example agreement for an employee supported by a county and multiple cities can be found in Appendix D.

Downtown Alden is two-block stretch of assorted small businesses, some of which back to the Iowa River. Some of the businesses serve people using the river, while others fill basic community needs. None of the existing entities, though, offer services or supplies that are unique to the county.

The building at 1109 Water Street in downtown Alden provides an ideal venue for a creative center. Inside and out, the currently for-sale building is a blank slate. The space offers over 6,000 square feet on 0.20 acres in a highly visible location. It is zoned for commercial use and ripe for redevelopment.

The creative center should include studio space as well as larger classroom space(s). A survey of the broad Hardin County community should be completed to understand how to prioritize obtaining special equipment for the creative center; this will help maximize usage of the space. It will be imperative to offer a variety of classes for all ages throughout the week; a sampling of these classes and suggested fees are included in the business plan in Appendix G.

The creative center should be organized as a nonprofit and should partner with Ellsworth Community College for as many programs as possible. The College offers degree programming in apparel merchandising, art, and graphic arts, among others. Students and teachers in these programs should be looked to as potential instructors for the creative center. The creative center also should partner with local schools as a means of supplementing standard educational offerings; arts funding is being cut across the nation, and the creative center should help fill the growing gap.

1109 Water

The exterior of the building currently stands out from other structures in downtown Alden. Nearly all of the buildings are brick or feature significant brick detailing; 1109 Water is a stark contrast with its metal structure. Community leaders should consider retaining a muralist to envelop the building in artwork, hinting at the space’s use. In addition, a living wall should be considered as a sustainability showcase as well as an artistic installation. Leaders should consider a variety of funding sources for these components and again may consider partnerships with Ellsworth Community College or even Iowa State University.

Creative Center Examples






Fabric Dying

Jewelry Making








Action Steps

establish non-profit to oversee creative center

Don Hirt and placemaking steering committee

Work with attorney in pro-bono capacity to incorporate as 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Develop other necessary guiding documents.

Q2 2018

survey community to determine priority mediums


Ask community members about key areas of interest, class frequency, cost, membership, etc. Distribute to as many people as possible within a 30-mile radius. Be sure to include open-ended questions for more robust answers. Analyze results and determine emerging priorities and themes; leverage these for the business plan and buildout.

Q2 2018

develop business plan and design buildout


Personalize business plan in Appendix G. Consider range of classes based on survey results and capital investments. Consult with Ellsworth Community College regarding potential collaboration. Develop buildout concept. Determine fundraising campaign needs for capital and annual gap needs.

Q3 2018

secure financing and complete buildout


Create funding roadmap. Secure contributions; be sure to build in operating costs for the first year. Complete buildout and secure equipment for various class offerings.

Q4 2018

opening and marketing campaign


Push marketing campaign throughout buildout. Create website and show buildout progress with pictures and videos. As possible, make exterior improvements, including the mural and/or living wall, early in process to draw interest. Plan a grand opening event.

Q2 2019