Plans in store to bring life to Collins, other Story County communities, businesses
The mayor of Collins has a vision for the small town. One that will bring life back to its Main Street and attract new businesses to the town. Over the coming months, Collins will get assistance with the visioning of the town’s future from Iowa State University students, through the Iowa Retail Initiative program.
The program connects students, faculty and staff from ISU with local businesses and community members in an effort to bring about economic development. This is the first year for the program, which is led by Linda Niehm, associate professor of retail merchandising and entrepreneurship at ISU. A group of graduate students will be focusing on the Collins Wellness Center, while a group of junior and senior students will be focusing on the visioning of Main Street.
A group of 12 students met with Comegys Tuesday, Feb. 18, to go over what Comegys had planned for the town. They also had the opportunity to take a look at the existing businesses and empty buildings along Main Street. Comegys assured the students that the ideas they come up with would be put to use if they would in any way benefit the community.
"Whatever you guys put together and I like it, I will use it," Comegys told the students. "It’s not just a grade for you, it’s our lives."
Comegys said towns in rural America are dying and many of them were formed along railroads. Now that railroads are being used significantly less than they were in the past to transport goods, the towns along the railroads are suffering. Collins used to have more than 1,000 residents with a movie theater, bowling alley and as many as four gas stations at one time. When the town lost the last gas station several years ago, some residents thought it meant the end of Collins, but not Comegys. He has big plans in store for Collins for the final two years of his term as mayor.
"2014 is going to be a banner year for Collins. Things are going to be happening," Comegys said.
One of the projects explained to the students is the reworking that will take place this summer on the viaduct along Highway 65 on the southwest side of town. As part of that project, 3,400 truckloads of dirt will be taken out. Rather than hauling the dirt away, Comegys wants to build a new road on the south and west side of town to reroute trucks that currently use Main Street to get to the co-op. The new road would also open up the possibility of a new residential area on the west side of town.
Comegys also talked about the buildings along Main Street, many of which are vacant and in need of renovations. He wants the city to obtain grants that will help renovate the buildings so they can be ready to go for people who are interested in opening a business in Collins. He would rather give prospective business owners a place to set up shop in Collins, versus giving them money to fix up the building where they will operate their business.
"The idea is to create more businesses, but the hurdle is attracting businesses that can make it on their own," Comegys said.
Four other communities and businesses in Story County will also benefit from the Iowa Retail Initiative program. Retail technical assistance will be provided to Moose on the Loose in Huxley, the Reed-Niland Corner Historical Site in Colo and J.B. Knacker Consignment Gallery in Gilbert. Community visioning services will be provided to Slater in order to help the market the town to attract new businesses and residents - similar to what is being done in Collins.
Drew Kamp, director of Story County Community Outreach for the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission, said the students will provide businesses with such things as financial, marketing, customer development and branding assistance.
"This project is critical to the five communities in which we are working, because it makes critical Iowa State University resources available to these small communities," Kamp said. "Projects such as this are exactly why my position was created and we look forward to seeing continued success in the days ahead."
At the end of the spring semester, the students will present their recommendations to the business or community to be used moving forward, Kamp said.