Proposed Spencer Arts District plans would fill Gary’s on the River, Hallmark building

Proposed Spencer Arts District plans would fill Gary’s on the River, Hallmark building
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McClure representatives returned to Spencer Wednesday to deliver a framework for establishing an arts and cultural district in the downtown area.

McClure was hired by the city in August for $38,000 to develop an arts and culture plan, though discussions about bringing in the group began about a year ago.

On Wednesday, Mickey Davis, a community placemaker with McClure, unveiled a website that shares the results of committee meetings, visioning sessions and other discussions.

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The website is a framework – nothing about it is set in stone – of plans that would make the district a reality.

Spencer Arts District logo

The plan establishes three goals:
– Promote and market the new district.
– Coordinate programming and education within the district.
– Coordinate with local government and other entities on projects the districts can accomplish or complement.

“Really, the rest of the plan revolves around these three goals,” Davis said.


Davis said McClure recognized Spencer and northwest Iowa already has existing arts and culture programs and organizations. This plan, he said, would offer strategies for Spencer to build upon and expand its own arts and culture community.

“There is more programming and more arts and culture that can be added to make this place a scene,” Davis said.

Plans for Gary’s, Hallmark building

Suggestions for two currently vacant buildings in Spencer, Gary’s on the River and the Hallmark (or Glass Block) building, stand out in the plan.

At Gary’s, McClure has suggested bringing in a restaurant in The Bear Coffeehouse and Wine Bar’s former space. McClure even compiled a business plan for a restaurant that could be called The Sparkler Eatery and Taproom – a nod to the sparkler that started the infamous Grand Avenue fire.

“This could be something that you could turn around and look at broadcasting to restaurateurs,” Davis said. “They could take this (business plan) and run with it.”

What used to be Gary’s on the River could be used for events, such as performances, concerts, weddings and work retreats.


The other building the plan calls for being filled is the former Hallmark building, also referred to as the Glass Block building.

“We think that’s a pretty important property to fill in this process,” Davis said.

That building could be used, the plan suggests, for artist studios and galleries on all three floors, plus production and rehearsal space that could supplement the performance venue at Gary’s on the River or at Spencer Community Theatre.

Next steps suggested for 2019 and 2020

Davis stressed several times during his presentation that the district plan would work to collaborate with existing organizations and support – not compete with – their work.

Davis said suggested next steps for this year include Spencer reapplying for its cultural district designation through the state and adding on a proposed arts district that includes the riverfront area.

A map of Spencer's cultural and historic districts, as well as McClure's proposed arts district.
A map of Spencer’s cultural and historic districts, as well as McClure’s proposed arts district.

Other steps for 2019 would be to set the official district boundaries and figure out its legal status – whether it should be its own 501(c)(3) or attached to a different organization’s nonprofit status.


McClure recommends hiring a director in 2020.

Davis said the arts district organization could help take the lead on some of the city’s other projects and plans.

“We really see the arts district as an opportunity to kickstart some of these larger plans that the city is working on – the economic development plan, the riverfront plan,” he said.

The district could also help plan, manage and promote events that could occur throughout its boundary area or at partner organizations.

So, what now?

McClure’s plan goes in-depth on many suggestions and still could change after input.

Zack Mannheimer, McClure’s principal of community planning, said the plan presented Wednesday is a “guide,” not a “bible.” The McClure team’s suggestions, he said, are just that.

“Now it’s up to the (steering) committee to determine if they agree with us,” Mannheimer said.

Davis said he will reach out to the steering committee McClure has been working with to organize a phone call next week to discuss feedback.

Until the committee’s had its say, parts of the plan could change.

“This plan is fluid,” Davis said. “We understand things change, local circumstances change.”


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