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Downtown Perry, Iowa Revitalization ... A Downtown in Jeopardy

The first phase of the project required close coordination with a restoration project going on at the City’s Historic Carnegie Library Museum (front building), as well as the transition from the streetscape along the front of the historic Hotel Pattee (the back building). By reframing
the geometry of the sidewalk pavers and repeating styles, colors and textures used on these two important projects, the downtown project stands out in subtle ways, while respecting the designs of projects that have come before.
Rain Bird
Playworld Came America

Perry (pop. 7,633) is a city along the North Raccoon River in Dallas County, Iowa, part of the Des Moines metropolitan area. Formerly a major railroad junction, Perry is home to the Carnegie Library Museum and the Hotel Pattee, with 40 individually decorated and themed guest rooms, including many related to the city’s railroad days.


To highlight the decorative nature of the wood grain pavers between the Perry Public Library and the historic Carnegie Library Museum, parking lot striping was done with a contrasting color to the pavers, rather than a typical painted stripes. The building pictured is the Historic Hotel Pattee, with 40 individually decorated and themed guest rooms, including many related to the railroad days.


Some residents of Perry, Iowa could remember when downtown was a destination on Saturday evenings to visit with neighbors, see a movie, or get an ice cream cone. Others had fond memories of a popcorn stand or catching a train to Des Moines from the Perry Depot. With all the stories of special times and memories made in downtown Perry, it was disheartening, even frustrating, for the community to see the city center dotted with vacant stores, cracked and settling sidewalks and severe flooding continuously wearing away at the already tired infrastructure.


Colors used at corners and the intersections in downtown Perry, Iowa complement the district’s buildings and businesses, but also several churches. The light limestone block seen in the church architecture inspired the light limestone accent color chosen for the intersection. The simple circular design at the center of the intersection is seen in the architecture of many of Perry’s downtown buildings. This simple, circular element was repeated in the ornamental fencing, site furnishings and is further reinforced by the sphere atop the columns and the lighted spheres of the pedestrian lighting.


This worn and rundown appearance was especially worrisome to the downtown shops, as this was their livelihood and a source of revenue-generating tourism for the community. The environment was not an attractive market for new business or businesses looking to relocate and invest their time and money.

Confronted with the reality that their community was in jeopardy, the city took action and hired Howard R. Green Company (HR Green) to facilitate a plan for downtown revitalization. The project was developed and guided with the help of a steering committee comprising city staff, elected officials, business owners, property owners, members of the Perry Chamber of Commerce and the community at large. This committee provided input and direction during the planning and helped promote the revitalization effort to the larger community.


Phase one of the project created a parking lot hardscape of custom concrete pavers with a wood grain finish from Wausau Tile. The design of the wood grain pavers was based on the texture and size of the genuine wooden pavers salvaged from Perry’s downtown streets. This parking area can be blocked off and used for festivals, farmers markets and other special events.


The Vision
When asked what they envisioned for the future of downtown Perry, the community responded:

“… A place to come and sit for a while, … a reason to go downtown, …a great place to be, … a downtown that is alive and fun.”

A general list of project objectives was developed by using the city’s previously adopted development plan as a starting point. This was supplemented by discussions during steering committee meetings, with city staff and participation at larger public events. This list outlined the defining factors that would shape revitalization of the downtown district.

  • Improve infrastructure
  • Encourage special events and activities
  • Develop intersection and streetscape treatments for character, traffic calming and create pedestrian-friendly environments
  • A downtown accessible to all ages and abilities
  • Site amenities
  • Security and a feeling of safety as an integral part of the plan
  • Front and backdoor parking access for businesses
  • Maintain access for delivery and emergency vehicles
  • A plan amenable to a variety of downtown “types”
  • Incorporation of community or civic spaces considered where space allows
  • Address the needs of second story residents
  • Meet the needs of businesses and owners
  • Directional signage to alternate parking areas.


The design includes a concrete band running the length of the curb. This provides a clean edge to the planting beds, but allows a stepping off point as people get in or out of their vehicles. Stella d’oro daylily, fountain grass and skyline honey locust are among the landscape.


HR Green created preliminary concepts for the downtown revitalization, which were presented to the steering committee and community for comments. A single schematic plan was developed through discussion of these concepts, including recommendations for nearly 20 blocks of the downtown district. Design elements, such as streetscape treatments for major and minor intersections, gateway features, pedestrian plazas, alley upgrades, parking and circulation were incorporated into the revitalization plan. The culmination of the planning was a presentation of the schematic design at a community-wide event, complete with mock-ups of some of the streetscape elements. This was an exceptional opportunity to reach out to residents and provide them with a glimpse of downtown Perry’s long-range plan.


Repetition of site elements—benches, light fixtures, ornamental fence panels, and brick columns—reinforce the rhythm of the streetscape and give continuity to the downtown.


The Final Steps
The final pieces to the planning were three-fold. First, the schematic plan was broken into components (“steps”). Having the components broken into logical and effective steps would allow the city to implement the plan over time and in an order to take advantage of funding opportunities while being cognizant of how each of the pieces fit.


Brick columns, ornamental fencing and plantings create visual buffers between the street and parking areas and the sidewalks and business entrances, allowing each their own zone. The buffer between the vehicular and pedestrian areas allows space for lighting and signposts, while creating a strong visual line along the main spine of downtown Perry.


Second, an opinion of probable construction costs was developed that detailed the scope of investment required to complete each of the steps in the revitalization plan. Third, a funding strategy was developed that identified potential funding and sources, local, state and federal. Not only did these matrices identify the funding sources, it also highlighted how each component of the project could be divided and paid for through separate funding sources.


The city’s motto is “Make Yourself at Home in Perry, Iowa.” Using this motto as a springboard, the design includes many elements typically seen at entrances into home landscapes: gates, fences, brick columns with decorative precast finials pillars and landscaping.


A Downtown Revitalization, Step One
Less than one year after completion of the Perry downtown revitalization plan, the city was ready to implement step one, the southern anchor of the downtown, a logical place to connect with the existing fabric and infrastructure of the downtown. It was also chosen because of its highly visible location within the downtown and its proximity to the highway running through town. A regionally significant historic hotel and museum, a public library, and a sampling of local downtown businesses would anchor the first downtown project. Because this would be the first glimpse the city would see of the downtown vision, it was decided step one would include all of the elements recommended in the schematic design. Custom concrete pavers with a wood grain finish were fabricated and incorporated into a shared parking lot to pay homage to the wood grain pavers that historically lined the streets of downtown Perry. The warmth and texture of the parking area also lends itself as a plaza space during community events and festivals. Concrete pavers were used at crosswalks and to highlight pedestrian spaces within the corridor.

Design of step one improvements created three distinct zones to help facilitate different uses through the site. A zone along the street with parallel parking was reserved for vehicular use.


Corner bump-outs occur at the major downtown intersection. These areas provide space for landscaping, lighting, signage and pedestrians. Ornamental signposts and custom sign blades highlight the district and reinforce the palette of materials.

A buffer zone was created along the back of curb line on both sides of the street. This buffer strip was reserved for lighting, street trees, signage, plantings and special paving. This zone also included a series of brick pillars and ornamental fencing meant to create visual and physical barriers between vehicular and pedestrian space. Pedestrian space comprised an eight-foot wide concrete sidewalk with decorative paver insets along both sides of the street. This space allows for pedestrians to pause and window-shop and sit down on the benches designed into the project. This space provided an opportunity for property and business owners to participate in the revitalization effort by placing potted plants or other elements outside their establishments. Step one construction was completed in one construction season and dedicated in conjunction with Perry’s fall festival, Sentimental Journey.


In phase two of the project, downtown side streets received a scaled-back version of the main streetscape: lighting, site furnishings, special paving and perennial plantings. Concrete pavers were used at crosswalks and to highlight pedestrian spaces.


Downtown Revitalization, Step Two
Only two years after completion of step one, the city began construction of a much larger step two project. This component included extensive underground utility work in preparation for roadway replacement and streetscape improvements. Above ground, step two included three blocks of new street and paver intersections, plus completely rebuilt sidewalk and streetscape amenities and landscaping. The intersections represent the major hub of the revitalization efforts, including bump-outs for added pedestrian space, along with colors forming a simple circular pattern. The inspiration for this circle form can be traced to many of the architectural elements found throughout the downtown area. Consistent with step one improvements, the streetscape design for step two included a separation of vehicular and pedestrian space. Plant material and site furnishings were chosen to continue the character established in the step one project. Crosswalks and sidewalk jointing patterns were also a continuation of patterns defined in step one.


Alternative transportation is encouraged throughout the community, so parking spaces for bicycles with bike rack bollards were incorporated into the downtown streetscape.

The Revitalization Goes On
Since completion of the first two steps within the Perry downtown revitalization project, the city and HR Green have completed several other steps as identified in the original revitalization plan. Four alleys have been improved, a parking lot enhanced and one of the civic/pedestrian alleys is currently under construction. The latest project includes decorative paving, seating, landscaping, a shade structure and a community bocce ball court that will provide space for community members and visitors to come together.


Corner bump-outs, with detectable warning pavers are incorporated into the major intersections in the downtown district, create a reduced crossing walk distance for pedestrians. These areas also provided additional space for landscaping, signage, lighting and a protective area at each end of the parallel parking along the street.





The Team

City of Perry
Howard R. Green Company – Design (civil, structural and electrical engineering, landscape architecture and construction observation)
Concrete Technologies, Inc. – general contractor

Concrete Pavers
Wausau Tile, Wausau, Wis.
Borgert Products, Inc., St. Joseph, Minn.

Site Furniture
Keystone Ridge Designs, Butler, Pa.
Site Lighting and Ornamental Posts
Lumec, Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada
Sternberg Lighting, Roselle, Ill.

Decorative Fencing
Ameristar Fencing, Tulsa, Okla.

Street Signs
Traffic and Parking Control Co. (TAPCO), Brown Deer, Wis.

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November 13, 2019, 7:42 pm PDT

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