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Community on the Move Benefits from Professional Planning Guidance

When it comes to attracting and retaining a productive and talented workforce, communities of all sizes are increasingly compelled to think beyond simply repairing existing infrastructure. Creating new, attractive, and inviting spaces, adding well-managed public venues, and continually striving to improve the natural environment are all essential elements for growing the population and maintaining a vibrant economy. The City of Fort Dodge has embraced this formula whole-heartedly.

The city is in the midst of what could be considered a renaissance, of sorts. Over the last two decades, city leaders have worked to reimagine their community, rejuvenate aging infrastructure, and reawaken community pride in its citizens. They’ve worked this delicate balance by not just focusing on the big picture projects, but rather, also keeping the all-important small details in full view. Led by the Snyder & Associates planning team, the Central River District Master Plan is the latest effort by city leaders to breathe new life into an underutilized community asset.central river district master plan graphic

Comprehensive District Planning Identifies Focus Areas

central river district master plan key focus areas

Overhead view of Master Plan focus areas.

Surrounding the Central Avenue corridor just east of the Des Moines River, the Central River District has been home to numerous industries for several generations. While much of the industry is now gone, the area’s prime location creates unlimited opportunities to help connect the historic downtown region with the riverfront by providing commercial, park, and infrastructure improvements. Through an extensive information-gathering process that included business owner and stakeholder meetings, along with public input sessions, four unique focus areas were identified in the district.

The Riverfront Park and Riverfront Development area focuses on recreational and community activities, along with support for commercial redevelopment. It was determined the majority of the city-owned property in this area should be kept for public use and developed as a riverfront park, including a sculpture garden and community gathering space. It was also recommended that consideration be given to selling some city-owned parcels adjacent to the river for supporting private development in the entertainment, recreation, or ecotourism-based businesses.

The Urban Core Light Industrial area was identified as an essential element for accommodating existing industrial services, office, and commercial spaces within the district. The products and services provided by these varied industries create job opportunities for the district and the larger community.

As the main conduit through the area, Central Avenue was identified as its own area, acting as the spine connecting the downtown to the riverfront. This area primarily presents opportunities to enhance the pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle connection between the historic downtown and the riverfront.

Located on the south side of Central Avenue, the Village area was identified for the potential to offer mixed-use commercial and residential redevelopment opportunities, with an emphasis on business incubation and multi-family housing.

Master Plan Establishes Goals for River District

With the four Central River District focus areas identified, the planning team then turned to establishing the framework and goals for reimaging the district. Foremost was the creation of a set of overall design principles to encourage improvements that help create a cohesive, welcoming, and thriving district. At the same time, they focused on promoting and celebrating the area’s historic past and the city’s vibrant art culture and unique architecture.

Expanding recreational opportunities by converting the riverfront into an active public park was also a top priority from the feedback received by the planning team. The Master Plan and Riverfront Park Concept Plan highlight potential recreational opportunities that the city-owned property offers along the Des Moines River and Soldier Creek. These opportunities should be aimed at complementing other city and regional recreational planning efforts and help foster a sense of community.

To maintain and encourage a sense of resiliency, sustainability, and vibrancy, the plan identifies a mixture of public and semi-private outdoor gathering spaces, as well as strong pedestrian and bike-friendly environments and corridors. The Master Plan also calls for a diversity of land uses and opportunities to encourage an adaptable live, work, and play atmosphere. Access to these amenities through multi-modal offerings and accessible services are also highly encouraged. Further, the plan supports the promotion of the district through specialized branding, social media platforms, wayfinding signage, and other special events.

Development of Action Plan Drives District Planning Success

Based on the identified focus areas and comprehensive goals presented in the Master Plan, a detailed action plan was also included. The action plan highlights key priority projects and potential redevelopment areas, along with a breakdown of estimated costs for many of the proposed improvements. These projects include the buildout of Riverfront Park, as well as numerous infrastructure improvements along Central Avenue, South 3rd Street, and North 1st Street.

The Central River District is a unique area within Fort Dodge, providing a critical connection between the historic downtown and the Des Moines River. Although the river is no longer used as a significant commercial or industrial transportation route, it’s capable of serving a more important role as a destination site rich in recreational opportunities and natural beauty. By investing in improvements to the river district and providing enhanced connections to the downtown area, the city can recapture the importance of this natural system and encourage visitors and residents to use and experience this region in their daily work and play.

The Snyder & Associates planning team recommends the regular promotion of the Master Plan by city leaders and yearly commitments to implement improvement projects. These efforts, no matter how small, show the residents of Fort Dodge and potential redevelopment partners that the city is interested in investing in this district and are willing to partner with others to create an atmosphere where the Central River District can prosper.