iowa falls: bowling alley

In most small towns, the bowling alley is a central gathering place. It’s the hangout spot for teenagers on weekend evenings, the place families go to recreate together, and, in Iowa Falls, a top pick for older adults to gather.

Despite the cross-generational appeal, Iowa Falls’ Pla-Mor Bowl closed its doors in December after serving as a recreational destination for over sixty years. Business at Pla-Mor slowed with the Great Recession and never bounced back; once vibrant bowling leagues drew less than 100 bowlers following the downturn.

Community members and leaders alike are concerned about the newly created recreation void and its impact on talent retention and attraction. Fortunately, it’s not too late to re-open the bowling alley and expand its offerings to make it a true community gathering space.

The biggest challenge in re-establishing the former Pla-Mor Bowl is how to transform it into a 21st century attraction. While all ages enjoy bowling, the space must offer additional activities and amenities in order to thrive. At a minimum, these supplemental amenities should include bocce ball, ping pong, a bar, and a food truck on a generous patio, which should be located where the sand volleyball court previously was located. This combination of amenities will position the venue to be financially self-sustaining while minimizing capital costs.

The space should combine the best of Nashville’s Pinewood Social, The Vortex in Austin, and Bacchanal in New Orleans. These three venues each have leveraged explosive population growth – 9.84, 19.93, and 13.86, respectively, from 2010-2016 – to drive their respective business successes.

To minimize individual investment risk, a group of area residents should come together to purchase the Pla-Mor Bowl and then have one person manage it on a day-to-day basis. The investors should serve as the board of directors and guide major decisions impacting the entertainment venue. When the venue becomes successful, the board may consider selling a larger percentage of the business to the day-to-day manager, freeing up their capital for other community investments.

Action Steps

identify potential investors for entertainment venue

Placemaking steering committee and Iowa Falls leadership

Measure initial interest via informal conversations. Determine best fit to lead effort. Determine other potential investors.

Q1 2018

determine needed updates and develop buildout concept

Investor group

Retain architect. Design floorplan in collaboration with potential users and stakeholders. Determine fundraising campaign needs for capital and annual gap needs.

Q2 2018

create business plan

Investor group

Review numbers from Pla-Mor Bowl, if available. Estimate attendance and offerings (both regular and special events). Determine necessary fees for various events. Consider venue rentals. Build the plan to show three years, at a minimum.

Q2 2018

complete buildout and hire staff

Investor group

Determine interior finishes as well as exterior improvements. Complete buildout. Hire and train staff; look to investor group for day-to-day manager.

Q3 2018


Investor group and day-to-day manager

Push marketing campaign throughout buildout. Create website and show construction progress in pictures and videos. Host four soft openings. Plan and execute grand opening.

Q4 2018