Mt Pleasant News
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 7, 2016

So that is the Union Block

By Bill Gray

By BILL GRAY

Mt. Pleasnat News

The Union Block. I spent a little time trying to figure out which block of downtown it was when I first came to Mt. Pleasant.

Interestingly enough, while it’s not actually a whole city block (as I was embarrassed to learn), it’s much more significant than most of your city blocks – here or anywhere.

So Main Street Mt. Pleasant is the proud owner of this historic 150-year-old structure, and they mean to do something with it. It’s not going to be easy to do, but that hasn’t stopped this community before.

This project already is being compared with the efforts that spawned the Mapleleaf Athletic Complex, the conversion of the old high school into the Heatilator Civic Center and Mt. Pleasant Library and the outstanding renovation of the Iowa Wesleyan College Chapel Auditorium. In scope, the comparison likely is apt.

Funding may be a differentiator from the past, however. There’s not as much of it out there now, at least in terms of helpful grants or loans. Rest assured, Main Street will seek out what is there, but only those of you who plug your ears and start singing hymns loudly have avoided the reality that the trend is toward belt tightening when it comes to spending for new projects, large or small.

Main Street realizes that the national significance of the Union Block must be translated into a national funding campaign. Local support will be the foundation to make this happen, but contributions must come from a wide area to reach that $3.5 million mark to pay for the complete renovation.

The community knows this can be done. The IWC Chapel was an ambitious project, budget-wise. The Stanley and Helen Howe Foundation provided the backbone for funding that included local contributions and many from IWC alumni across the nation. Fund-raising for the Union Block could use a similar “backbone” to spur contributions, especially because the forecast for future state and federal funding is cloudy at best.

Times of building a project upon a federal loan or grant may be gone for the next several years. Yet for something that is important to the community – to the nation, in the case of the Union Block – can move above and beyond that lack.

Plan on reading and hearing a lot more in the coming months about this 150-year-old building on the north side of the square. The message will need to be sent, and sent repeatedly, to remind everyone who cares that this is a project worthy of funding consideration. It will help that Main Street is committing to exterior improvements as soon as feasible; the general consensus from those who’ve examined it is the Union Block is a sound building – but right now it looks less than that.

Some hustle and bustle to take care of its outside structure and appearance will help keep “top of the mind awareness” on this project. Serious talk about renovations has been evident for about 25 years now, so this is no time to hesitate if the job is to be done at last.