Community Block Grant offers opportunity for downtown Riverside

Christine Kirkwood
Posted 9/7/23

Downtown property owners were all ears during the Community Development Block Grant-Downtown Revitalization (CDBG-DTR) kick-off meeting at Riverside’s City Hall on Thursday, Aug. 31.

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Community Block Grant offers opportunity for downtown Riverside


Downtown property owners were all ears during the Community Development Block Grant-Downtown Revitalization (CDBG-DTR) kick-off meeting at Riverside’s City Hall on Thursday, Aug. 31.

Bethany Jordan, a Project Architect with Martin Gardner Architecture, and Tom Gruis, a Planner with ECICOG, met with owners to explain the program. This grant aims to help communities come together to bring life back to their downtown buildings by replacing facades, windows, doors, and more.

The timeline for this program runs from September 2023 until September 2025 and could provide up to $650,000 in grant funds to renovate six or more downtown buildings in Riverside.

            The revitalization program has the goal of reducing slum and blighted areas with funds from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the State of Iowa.  The program looks at areas in small towns where there are at least six buildings in a defined area that qualify for an upgrade of the front and exposed sides of buildings.  The locations selected must be for commercial use only, as no residential is allowed on the main floor.

The project funding breaks down as up to $650,000 from the grant, a 33% or more match from the City, and the rest will be funded by the building owners. In total, this program could spur over a million dollars of investment in Riverside’s downtown district in a span of two years.

            Jordan and Gruis explained the detailed process of qualifying for the program, submitting the documentation, and getting the revitalization process started.  A lot of coordination is needed between the owners, planners, contractors, and the city in order to achieve success, but it has been worthwhile to the other communities that have participated in the grant program. 

Although not every property owner in the target area may want to participate, the goal of revitalization is to renovate a group of buildings to help businesses become more attractive and to preserve some of the older structures most in need of repair.  Historic photos can be used in the planning process and it’s often an opportunity to uncover lost architectural details to bring back the character of old buildings. 

The effect of revitalization on a four or five-building stretch was evident in the before and after photos from previous community participants. Even when a grant is not funded, the town can use the planning and estimates to keep moving forward to make improvements.

            When a grant is funded, the first year is spent on evaluation, planning, and letting bids. The actual construction work generally takes another year.  Not all properties may be worked on at once in order to reduce inconvenience to owners and allow access for customers and the public.

            John Sojka, owner of the former community building that now hosts Down the Street Coffee House & Boutique, suggested the community begin a proactive campaign to bring in more tourism. 

“Kalona has more historical interest than we do, but many tourists have to drive through Riverside to get there,” he said. “We need to give them reasons to stop here first.  This is a golden opportunity for our community.”

            Riverside’s City Administrator, Cole Smith, noted that the City has a commercial property for sale at 40 West 1st Street that is also within the outlined CDBG-DTR grant district. 

More information on submitting bids for the property can be found on the city website (// or by calling City Hall at  319-648-3501.  Bids are due by Friday, September 29 at 4 p.m. 

He also indicated that the city would be open to supporting downtown promotional efforts to help owners keep their businesses running smoothly during construction. He followed up by stating that he believes this project will positively impact tourism, business development, and community morale.

“This is the type of thing the entire community can get excited about,” Smith said.